The 2019 Bay of Plenty kiwifruit harvest has been heralded a great success. Numerous records have been smashed and Carmen Hall talks to those involved and future industry predictions.


The kiwifruit seasonal labour shortage has failed to dampen 2019 results with Zespri posting record results and packhouses indicating tens of millions of dollars more will be pumped into infrastructure in the Bay.

The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reported in May the three largest kiwifruit packhouses in the region had invested $225 million into infrastructure since 2014 in preparation for soaring levels of gold kiwifruit while Zespri revenue topped $3 billion.

Zespri also continued its rollout of licences and would release 700ha of G3 SunGold and 50ha of SunGold Organic every year until 2022 - subject to annual review.

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The hugely anticipated red kiwifruit made a short appearance on the New Zealand marketplace with its commercial fate being decided at the end of this year.

In another world first EastPack opened a fully-automated $10m kiwifruit coolstore in Te Puke with two state-of-the-art robots and chief executive Hamish Simson told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend work had begun on another coolstore down the road.

Since 2014 the company had spent ''a shade over $120m'' on infrastructure and technology.

The fruit volumes going forward were unrelenting, he said, and EastPack was in preparation mode.

''You have to match that in either storage or packing capacity.''

Simson said due to the hot, dry summer its volumes were down from 41.1 million trays of kiwifruit in 2018 to 38 million trays in 2019 but the future looked bright.

''The fruit was very good tasting and had high dry matter but it was back 10 per cent on size so they are a little bit smaller.''

It was important to look past the year-to-year fluctuations, Simson said.

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''Kiwifruit is a natural product and the pollination was a bit more challenging but if you look at the trends they are all heading one way - and that is up. Significantly up.

"So next year on a strong year we will most likely be over 40 million trays again.''

This year EastPack employed about 3600 seasonal workers but it had a shortage at the beginning of the season, he said.

DMS Progrowers chief executive Derek Masters said the company was planning to build a new packhouse in Te Puke within the next few years and it had already spent $20m on new coolstores, additional packing capacity and associated infrastructure.

''When the packhouse is built will be determined on what evolves over the next one to two years, but the fruit is coming. Zespri gold licences have been released and now those cutovers and the new plantings are starting to come through.''

Zespri chief grower and alliances officer Dave Courtney said gold kiwifruit volumes outstripped green for the first time this season. Photo / File
Zespri chief grower and alliances officer Dave Courtney said gold kiwifruit volumes outstripped green for the first time this season. Photo / File

Zespri chief grower and alliances officer Dave Courtney said SunGold had exceeded green volumes for the first time this season and there was a lot of excitement about the potential for a red kiwifruit.

''Based on the consumer trials and the performance of the fruit through the supply chain, we'll be making a decision on whether or not we commercialise the new red, as well as a new green, later this year. The feedback from consumers is that this is also one of the best ever tasting crops which is great.''

Zespri's net profit after tax increased to $179.8m in 2018/19 from $101.8m in 2017/18 while revenue from global kiwifruit sales and SunGold licence release increased by 26 per cent to $3.14b.

Courtney said Zespri was in almost 60 markets worldwide with plans to nudge into even more with strong sales growth in Japan up 20 per cent to 28 million trays and China up almost 15 per cent to about 27 million trays.

The biggest emerging market went to North America where sales had grown from less than $25m in 2014 to near $100m.

''Sales in the US are on track to double in the next four years and become our fourth-largest market.''

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated chief executive Nikki Johnson said there was a 900 seasonal worker shortage in 2019. Photo / File
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated chief executive Nikki Johnson said there was a 900 seasonal worker shortage in 2019. Photo / File

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said the industry was planning for increased growth and finding seasonal workers was an ongoing challenge.

To combat the issue, the organisation ran its first labour attraction campaign after a 1200-person worker shortage in the Bay of Plenty in 2018.

Johnson said that strategy, along with the Government's labour shortage declaration, good weather and longer shifts, meant at the peak of this season's harvest the worker shortage dropped to 900.

''Initial feedback about the campaign has been positive and we will be reviewing how the campaign went to make improvements for potentially implementing another campaign next year.''

It was also great to see innovation throughout the industry particularly in packhouse automation which ''is a step in the direction to reduce the need for labour''.

Priority One projects manager Annie Hill said kiwifruit was one of the main economic drivers in the Bay. Photo / File
Priority One projects manager Annie Hill said kiwifruit was one of the main economic drivers in the Bay. Photo / File

Priority One projects manager Annie Hill said with more than 80 per cent of New Zealand-grown kiwifruit coming from the Bay of Plenty, the region was a huge beneficiary of the kiwifruit industry.

''Commercial investment is extremely important to the Western Bay and a very good indicator of economic growth. It reflects confidence by investors, an expanding business community and job growth. In addition, strong growth in commercial building consents is a reflection of a more productive economy.''