Kiwifruit's golden run could plateau next year as the industry battles lower pollination rates and a severe seasonal worker shortage, industry leaders warn.
Three major packhouses in the Bay of Plenty have collectively spent about $50 million on new cool stores and automated packing lines for the upcoming season but there are concerns that the seasonal workforce next year could face a shortfall of 6,500 workers.
In contrast, Zespri is anticipating another record-breaking harvest next year due to strong global demand.
Trevelyan's Pack & Cool managing director James Trevelyan said the number of flower buds per square metre, on average, were down for all fruit groups.
''So I'm suspecting our volumes will be down slightly in 2022,'' Trevelyan said.
Volumes it packed had jumped from 14m trays in 2020 to 18.5m last year but the quality of fruit had slipped.
''It was warm and wet and maybe we didn't get as many sunshine hours as prior years.''
The seasonal staffing situation was also a concern and Trevelyan feared the situation could get worse.
To help store fruit it couldn't pack straight away the company had invested $10m into four cool for the 2022 season but that had been tough on capital.
''You're buffering fruit and spending money to sticky-tape inefficiencies, which isn't good.''
Eastpack chief executive Hamish Simson said at this stage it looked like next year's harvest would not yield as much as this year.
''Our volume is flat but a lot can happen between now and the start of the season.''
Eastpack had gone from about 42m trays to 47m in a record season this year but had dealt with more fruit that had ruptured.
''It seems to be able to pick OK but it breaks down internally. When you tip the bin out it ruptures and there is fruit and pulp everywhere, so it was a very challenging packing season. But 2021 turned out OK.''
The company focused on maintaining control but Simson said 20 per cent fewer workers and higher absenteeism had impacted the business.
''We have to play it as we see it, and at this stage it looks like the border will be heavily restricted so we are not counting on a lot of backpackers.''
To combat that Eastpack would increase its controlled atmosphere capacity and cool-storage facilities, which cost $20m.
Seeka would have a new automated packline and high-efficiency cool store near Te Puke for the season next year.
The company expects the new packline to offer significant production efficiencies and an increase in total trays packed.
An additional 650,000 static trays of cool storage would be constructed at the nearby Transcool site in place of a smaller, old cool store. Both investments were about $20m.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Colin Bond said its recruitment campaign would continue next year.
It is estimated that about 20,000 seasonal staff would be needed nationally and there had been a major shortfall in this year.
''The labour shortage could potentially have a knock-on effect across the whole supply chain. This is another timely reminder of the rollercoaster ride that primary industries can be, and growers need to take this risk into account when making business decisions.''
Zespri encouraged by strong global demand
Zespri's Chief global supply officer Alastair Hulbert says although the sector is facing headwinds from Covid disruptions, rising freight costs and labour shortages, it is encouraged by strong global demand.
It had charted 17 more reefer vessels this year  that had delivered about 17,000 refrigerated containers or 620,000 tonnes of class 1 kiwifruit.
The exporter marketed to more than 50 countries, with greater China, Japan and Europe leading the way, while North America and Vietnam also experienced growth.
This season had also marked the largest Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit season yet, with more than 100 million trays delivered for the first time, and around 77 million trays of green kiwifruit.
Hulbert said Zespri was anticipating another record-breaking harvest next year, with more hectares coming into production that included RubyRed kiwifruit.
This year it released 700 hectares of Sungold kiwifruit, those licences sold under the tender process, and the average median price was $550,000 per canopy hectare - $150,000 more than last year. Meanwhile, 350ha of red kiwifruit was released at a median price of $74,979.
However, Zespri has ''reduced the amount of new hectares we licence to be planted next year''.
It would release 350ha of SunGold, no Organic SunGold kiwifruit and 350ha of RubyRed kiwifruit.
"The decision is based around ensuring sustainable value for our growers, through management of supply volumes aligned with our projected future market demand," according to Zespri chairman Bruce Cameron.
''Zespri remains incredibly confident in the market demand outlook, with global demand for our fruit continuing to strengthen, along with the value we are able to capture for growers if we maintain our approach of building market demand ahead of supply.''
To combat the estimated 6,500 labour shortfall this year Hulbert said it was making a series of operational challenges around incentives, pack types and shipping schedules to maximise industry capacity and minimise the impact, he said.
This season also marked the largest Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit season yet, with just over 100 million trays delivered for the first time, and about 77 million trays of green kiwifruit.
The last of this year's crop departed from the Port of Tauranga on the MV Kakariki, which would unload in Tokyo and Kobe early next month.