But this vital sector has bounced back and is today prospering - and is now struggling to find enough workers to harvest its crops.
As part of a Bust to Boom: Kiwifruit's remarkable comeback, Carmen Hall takes a look at a school that is teaching students the skills to enter the industry.
Katikati College has launched a pilot horticulture programme to get students into the kiwifruit industry.
If successful it could be adopted by a sister school in Tonga.
Teacher Hilary Johnson said there were career opportunities