The multibillion-dollar kiwifruit industry could pump even more cash into regional economies as it gears up for another record-breaking season.
Business leaders are welcoming the injection as the sector continues to boom while export giant Zespri expects continued growth in future global markets such as India and Mexico.
Meanwhile, the decision by major packhouses to increase starting rates to $22.10 an hour for seasonal workers - as 23,000 harvest roles need to filled - has been welcomed.
Last year, nationally growers reaped returns of $2b including $1.55b to those based in the Bay of Plenty.
Zespri Head of Communication and External Relations Michael Fox said that money helped support thousands of New Zealand businesses, workers and regional communities - and this year would be no exception.
''We're expecting another record-breaking crop this season, with more Zespri SunGold kiwifruit than green and we're also really excited to share our Zespri Red Kiwifruit with consumers this season.''
Zespri exports to more than 50 global markets and while Greater China, Japan and Europe were the largest it was expecting minor markets to perform well.
''We're also seeing really strong growth in North America, and looking to continue to grow demand in our future markets, including the likes of India and Mexico.''
Zespri financial results for 2019/20 showed it sold 164.4 million trays of New Zealand and non-New Zealand-grown kiwifruit. Gold kiwifruit volumes were driving current forecasts as more fruit reached maturity.
Data shows from 2016 to 2020 Zespri has issued 2600 hectares of Gold 3 kiwifruit licences and median prices have soared from $200,00 per ha to $460,000 in 2020. Those licences were subject to the closed tender process.
Eastpack chief executive Hamish Simson said the company packed about 41 million trays of kiwifruit last year and that number was set to jump.
''We have got just over 46 million trays this year so that is quite a lift. There have been a lot more plantings of gold coming on stream steadily.''
Simson said it had built more capacity to cope with demand including a state of the art robotic automation on its grader at Washer Rd in Te Puke which cost about $10 million.
In regards to the fruit, he said it was a bit bigger and in terms of maturity it was on par with last year.
Seeka Growers and Marketing general manager Jim Smith said its ''growers and orchard managers have produced another fantastic crop this year, with quality looking excellent for the upcoming harvest''.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said the organisation was anticipating a good season for fruit quality and dry matter which meant it would taste sweeter.
''While kiwifruit growers in the Bay of Plenty have experienced a relatively dry season in the lead up to harvest, the rain in February has provided some relief.''
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the horticulture industry was critical to the Bay of Plenty's export-reliant economy.
''It is a cornerstone element to our success as a region. Kiwifruit is also a key part of our region's brand recognition for overseas visitors.''
The kiwifruit sector also benefits a long list of suppliers and contractors who work within the horticulture and logistics industries, he says.
''The industry employs a lot of people who support our satellite towns like Te Puke and Katikati and other local suppliers.''
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard said the raising of wage rates and providing greater shift flexibility was good news for job seekers.
''Hopefully, this will assist to coax more Kiwis into these roles.''
News that the Ministry for Social Development was encouraging people off benefits alongside incentives and free travel to the packhouses should be applauded, he said.
''Rotorua stands to be a big beneficiary of this arrangement. 20,000 jobs is a big number and can seriously impact the unemployment rate in the Bay of Plenty. It is to be hoped that the offer is well supported by jobseekers.''
Heard said it understands a lot of good people had been displaced from work through no fault of their own, especially during Covid, and ''we feel certain that these people will take up offers like this''.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said kiwifruit was one of ''our largest industries and has consistently delivered more to our region over the past few years''.
While a profitable industry for growers; it needs to balance attracting large amounts of workers with providing pay rates that are worthwhile for the worker and the industry – this increase should be encouraged.