The picking of Northland's multimillion-dollar kiwifruit crop has begun with excellent quantity and quality being reported by growers in what could be a record season.

Orchards in the region on average produce about three and a half million trays of fruit a year which is worth $40 million but with this season's good crop that could be boosted to $50m.

Northland's representative for New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Association, Dermott Malley, said the summer weather should see large volumes of green and gold kiwifruit this year.

And early "pack out" rates indicated more fruit would make it to international markets and mean more in the pockets of growers.


"Normally there is about 10 per cent on average of the fruit that goes to be packed that does not make export grade. So far this year that's only 5 per cent, which is a significant improvement."

Mr Malley said there were fewer blemishes on the fruit because in December - when the skin was particularly delicate - there had not been any significant winds to damage the fruit.

Most picking began this week but some growers in the region had been able to take advantage of the early start last month and get a premium for their fruit.

Mr Malley said there were plenty of pickers available unlike the shortage faced by Hawke's Bay apple growers this season.

In the week starting May 7 the first load of kiwifruit to leave the region via ship, rather than being trucked south to the Port of Tauranga, will sail from Northport at Marsden Pt.

About 40 refrigerated containers will be loaded and shipped to Singapore with some then heading for Japanese and Chinese markets from there.

It is a new service called "Kiwi Express" and Zespri shipping manager Mike Knowles said there had been interest from other Northland based industries to export their products too.

The ship will be docking every fortnight and initially run until the end of the kiwifruit season in late August.

He said the Marsden Pt option would significantly lower transport costs. Currently kiwifruit is trucked from Kerikeri to Auckland, before being loaded on to rail and taken to the Port of Tauranga to be distributed overseas.

Kiwifruit division manager for Huanui Orchard, John McIntosh, said picking gangs had begun stripping vines at a block at Kauri yesterday.

And while it was only the second season the block had been producing the Sungold fruit, it was of a high quality.

Many Northland growers are in their second season of "growing gold" after converting because of the threat of the PSA virus.

He reported no trouble getting staff to pick the crop, with backpackers on a waiting list.

Nationally Zespri are expecting this year's crop to exceed last year's by about 20 million trays or 70,000 tonnes.

The company has predicted sales will exceed $2 billion for the current season, with official sales figures to be announced in May.