As the kiwifruit season cranks up, there are predictions of a small increase in the Bay of Plenty crop and a potential labour shortage.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said early indications are the crop this year is expected to show a small increase from last year, particularly in relation to SunGold as new planting matures.

"The industry is expected to grow significantly in the next 10 years, reflecting the plantings of SunGold that have taken place over the last two years, and the intention for 700 hectares of licence to be released this year and ongoing for the next five years," she said.

A Zespri spokesman said it was expecting a bigger crop than in 2017, with a recovery in green volumes and continued growth of SunGold. Zespri sold more than 120 million trays of kiwifruit last season and in February reported improved forecast returns for the 2017/18 season.

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EastPack chief executive Hamish Simson said its six sites in the Bay could pack about 38 million trays this season, up 5 million trays on last season.

In the past five years the company had invested more than $100 million in infrastructure that included increasing cooling store capacity, new grading machinery and technology.
This year has already seen the Ministry for Social Development declare a worker shortage for fruit pickers in Hawke's Bay, and as the kiwifruit season progresses, workers could be in hot demand.

"Figures from 2016 show around 60 per cent of the seasonal workers are New Zealanders with around 10 per cent backpackers, 15 per cent Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers and 15 per cent international students," says Johnson.

"However, we anticipate there are significantly fewer international students available for work this year and that will mean a greater reliance on backpackers and New Zealanders."

Trevelyan's general manager Stephen Butler said it was keeping a close eye on the situation in Hawke's Bay and whether that would flow through to the kiwifruit harvest.

"A labour shortage obviously would impact all areas of the industry, but it is too soon to say if there will be a crisis this season."

It required 1500 seasonal workers but He said it "appears we have all roles covered at this stage".

Trevelyan's would pack 15 million trays, an increase of 3 million on last season.

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