Avocado thieves are putting public health at risk by selling fruit stolen from Northland orchards after it has been sprayed with insecticide according to a Mid North avocado grower, who did not want to be identified for fear of drawing extra attention to her orchard.
Youngsters had been riding their bikes out to her property, raiding her trees, then selling the fruit in town, taking away her income, and the income of her employees. Her real concern, however, was that they were also endangering people's health.
All commercial orchards - avocados, kiwifruit and other produce - used insecticides, which had specified withholding periods, typically 14 days but sometimes 28 days or even longer, during which fruit should not be eaten because it was likely to have chemical residue.
''You get really concerned. The people who take the fruit, and those who buy it, don't know when you've sprayed it," she said.
The culprits were generally youngsters who arrived on bicycles and filled their backpacks with as many avocados as they could reach. The thefts had peaked in the second week of the school holidays.
She had heard about people approaching shop owners with boxes of avocados, and last year kids had set up stalls on Kaikohe's main street.
There was a good reason why commercial growers had hazard signs at their gates, she said, while ripping avocados off the trees, instead of snipping them off with a piece of stem still attached, also exposed the fruit's flesh and made them vulnerable to rot.
John Dawson, Mid-North representative for the New Zealand Avocado Growers' Association, said orchard thefts tended to occur in waves. This season avocados were not particularly expensive, due to a plentiful supply, so thefts were not a widespread problem.
With huge areas currently being planted in the Far North it was unlikely that New Zealanders would see a return to the high prices of a few years ago, and that would also make the kind of large scale-thefts seen in the past less likely.
While sprayed fruit had a withholding period before it could be sold for consumption, most of the spray remained on the skin. Imported fruit, which was eaten skin and all, was a greater concern when it came to spray residues, he said.
In 2019 shop prices for avocados hit $11 in some places, prompting Mexican restaurants to cut back on guacamole, sparking thefts and fuelling the conversion of farmland into orchards.
In 2018 Kaikohe avocado grower Graeme Burgess lost 70 per cent of his crop to thieves, costing his business about $100,000, although they had been so far from maturity that they would never ripen.
Those thefts had occurred at night over a three-week period.