Wondering why veges are so expensive at the moment?

Growers of green vegetables in the North Island have been battling 18 months of extremely adverse weather conditions, impacting produce growth and driving up prices - and also costing jobs.

Horowhenua is a horticultural hub, known as the food basket of the lower North Island; it has been severely affected by the unrelenting and extreme weather conditions.

Woodhaven, one of the region's largest growers, has lost up to 20 per cent of its produce, at a cost of $100,000 per week.


Managing director John Clarke said it's not just farmers and supermarket prices affected, but the workers as well.

He said they were running out of spinach and as a result, 20 women would be without work for up to 14 days.

"Some of those ladies will be grateful for the holiday, but a lot of them have rent to pay and families to feed," he said.

"People tend to forget about the social side."

Mr Clarke said 85 per cent of his lettuce has bolted and gone to seed due to the heat and 50 per cent of the zucchinis were destroyed during Cyclone Gita.

In a market driven by supply and demand, prices have more than tripled for some of the most affected vegetables.

"We are purely price takers, what the wholesale market pays is what we get and they are paying more for what we don't have much of," he said.

"We can only harvest 5-10 per cent of our lettuce crop and their price has increased from 50 cents per head in December, to $1.50 now."

Woodhaven managing director John Clarke. Photo / Horowhenua Chronicle
Woodhaven managing director John Clarke. Photo / Horowhenua Chronicle

Mr Clarke said last year the farm experienced one of the wettest periods he had seen in 40 years. Following that came three months of what he said was the driest spring/summer ever recorded in Horowhenua.

With his farm only 30 per cent irrigated, and with limited access to water in drought, he said lettuce, watermelon, pumpkin and broccoli have suffered the most.

Though there was no escaping the effects of wet weather on his crops, Mr Clarke did say they can be better prepared for the dry months.

"We are really blessed in New Zealand [with plenty of water], but we have got to be able to store it; investment into water storage is key."

He said that variability of weather was certainly changing and Woodhaven would be looking at maximising its irrigation resource in the future.

However, much of the farm could not be irrigated as it falls inside a zone that will not allow new bore consents.

This is due to the potential effects taking more ground water can have on water levels in the neighbouring and heavily polluted Lake Horowhenua.

He said they would be reinvesting into irrigation pumps and looking to increase the irrigated land area to the south of Levin where they could apply for another bore consent.

Though a long dry spell has had a much needed reprieve, the battle continues for Woodhaven and many other vegetable growers in Horowhenua as the wet and windy weather prevents planting for the next season.

"It's an extremely important period of time right now where you are planting all the late autumn/winter crops, every week we are late [equals] two weeks late to harvest," he said.