- Adverse weather a challenge for some growers
- Lower volume of kiwifruit to be produced on the previous year
- New red variety first to be picked
New Zealand’s 2023 kiwifruit harvest has kicked off with the first crop picked this morning in Pukehina in the Bay of Plenty and more kiwifruit to be picked around New Zealand over the coming months.
It was grower Robert MacKenzie’s first harvest of red kiwifruit for his 0.84ha orchard under management by Levi Hartley from Prospa. The picking crew was Pieters Horticulture Limited.
Zespri’s new RubyRed variety is picked first followed by the gold and green varieties. The harvest traditionally peaks in mid-April and runs through until June.
2023 marks the second year that RubyRed will be sold as a commercial variety.
Adverse weather over recent months has meant that the 2023 season was forecast to be a lower volume year than last year’s 160 million trays exported to overseas markets. On average, each tray has around 30 pieces of kiwifruit.
Cyclone Gabrielle managed to spread its wind and rain across every kiwifruit growing region in New Zealand this week, a particularly critical time for kiwifruit growth so close to harvest.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Institute chief executive, Colin Bond, said although the situation continued to evolve, their primary concern was with the immediate needs and wellbeing of the impacted members of the industry.
“I have been working closely with other leaders from the horticulture industry, government and stakeholders within our industry to ascertain the extent of the damage and the immediate needs of our people. No doubt that there will be medium and long-term needs for some of those impacted too.
“I also recognise that the flooding prior to Cyclone Gabrielle as well as the halting of the February progress payments had a larger impact for some growers,” Bond said.
“Our focus is on alleviating a range of pressures on many growers at this time. In addition, there is also a wider concern with the recent climatic conditions, including lack of sunlight hours, which may impact on fruit growth as harvest approaches.”
The industry had been working hard to lessen ongoing quality issues that hampered last year’s harvest. Growers have also faced adverse weather effects such as hail, frosts, cyclones and associated flooding in the lead-up to harvest that have impacted on kiwifruit volumes.
Combined with a year of poor opening of flower buds which form kiwifruit, this season looks to be an extraordinarily challenging one for growers.
“While this year’s poor bud break and weather meant that it is too early to have a good grasp on the seasonal labour requirements to pick and pack the 2023 harvest, the lower forecast volume for 2023 indicates that we will need less labour than 2022 which required around 24,000 people,” Bond said.
“The reopening of New Zealand’s borders, lack of Covid-19 and downward economy indicated a temporary respite from the severe labour shortages of previous years.
“At this time, while the number of working holiday visa holders entering New Zealand is reassuring, it is not yet clear if the horticulture industry will receive its full allocation of RSE workers due to visa and flight disruptions.”
The industry was also mindful that the drop in the volume of kiwifruit produced in 2023 only provided the industry with temporary alleviation, the pressure to source sufficient labour in 2024 was forecast to return when volumes significantly increased.
New Zealand has about 2800 kiwifruit growers located from Kerikeri to Motueka.
“The industry must work together to ensure the 2023 season runs as smoothly as possible despite the curveballs being thrown,” Bond said.
“I encourage kiwis to get involved in the industry, whether it be picking, pruning, packhouse work or otherwise. It’s an industry that has roles to suit everyone, it’s rewarding, flexible, and the pay rates are competitive.”
New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry is horticulture’s largest export, with an economic contribution of $2.4 billion in 2022 which is expected to grow to over $3.8 billion by 2030.
2022 Kiwifruit industry regional contribution:
- Northland: $98m
- Auckland: $92m
- Katikati: $283
- Opotiki: $208m
- Tauranga: $276m
- Te Puke: $1070m
- Waihi: $33m
- Whakatane: $122m
- Waikato: $75m
- Poverty Bay: $89m
- Hawkes Bay: $39m
- Lower North Island: $5m
- South Island: $27m
- SUPPLIED CONTENT