The kiwifruit industry is arguably one of the most successful comeback stories in the Bay of Plenty. Nearly 10 years ago the sector was almost wiped out by Psa. Today it is booming and growers are getting record returns. Carmen Hall takes a look at the latest figures released from Zespri.
The kiwifruit industry continues to boom - and Bay of Plenty growers are reaping $1.4 billion in a year.
Business leaders say its success should be commended and the sector is a key driver and contributor to the region's economy.
Figures from Zespri show the company made direct payments of about $210 million to kiwifruit growers in Katikati, $170m in Ōpōtiki, $250m in Tauranga, $715m in Te Puke, $25m in Waihi, and $86m in Whakatāne in 2018/19.
In total, $1.8b was paid to growers nationally.
Zespri chief grower and alliance officer Dave Courtney said the growth and success the kiwifruit industry was experiencing stemmed from a lot of hard work by a lot of Bay of Plenty people.
This included many local families who had helped establish the Bay as a key growing area.
There are now more than 11,000 hectares of kiwifruit in the area.
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New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said kiwifruit was New Zealand's largest horticultural export, followed by wine and apples.
There were about 8000 people working fulltime in the Bay of Plenty kiwifruit industry. That was supplemented by another 14,500 seasonal workers which were required to pick and pack kiwifruit in the region between April and May this year, she said.
Research suggested the industry would need another 7000 seasonal employees by 2027.
''It is still too early to tell how volumes for kiwifruit will be in the next harvest, and thus the number of seasonal workers required. However, with the increased plantings of kiwifruit vines, next season is expected to have higher volumes and thus the need for more seasonal workers than this year.''
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the golden beaches and local kiwifruit were a key part of the region's identity. The kiwifruit industry supported a wide range of businesses.
''For example, many large companies provide professional services right through to small sole traders who look after growers' plants and equipment.
"The industry's whole supply chain is located within the region - growing it, packing it, and shipping it to overseas markets is all completed within a small radius.''
Kiwifruit also indirectly boosted the tourism sector, as Zespri's wholesome advertising raised the Bay of Plenty's profile in key international markets such as Asia, he said.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said Zespri deserved credit for championing a quality product that had increased volume and price over the course of time.
''We're also excited by opportunities for innovative companies that work alongside the industry; hort-tech will be an important growth area in the future.''
Welcome Bay kiwifruit grower Mike West said the future looked bright.
But horticulture did not come without risk.
''As farmers, we have to keep an eye on the next risk. That could either be a biosecurity threat or from the markets. It can happen quickly and you end up being blindsided.''
However, West, who had his orchard spilt into gold, green and sweet green varieties, said he was happy with the gold returns - which were much higher than green.
Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell said Zespri was a hugely successful co-operative model that had 30 per cent of New Zealand's global trade and should be congratulated.
He said the three councils must work co-operatively to support the kiwifruit industry.
''This is a great example because we need the infrastructure to be able to open up transit lands for kiwifruit and the housing which would sit around it to get the employees. This is a key industry not just for Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty but for New Zealand.''
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said the flow-on effects from the kiwifruit industry were massive, although the growers were the end beneficiaries.
''But so are the people that pack the fruit, the drivers who take the fruit from the orchards to the packhouses, those who work on the orchards through to pruning and spraying.''
''It's one of the reasons why the Bay of Plenty is one of the leading growth areas in New Zealand. The port, agriculture and forestry are all great contributors that bring employment and with employment comes income and means people can buy houses and feed their families.''