They were dark days, with growers losing their vines, orchards and money.
Today kiwifruit is the biggest horticulture export out of New Zealand and the sector is booming but, as Carmen Hall reports, it is now facing new challenges.
The kiwifruit industry is grappling with its most significant challenge since Psa - a severe seasonal worker shortage.
It's projected that the industry will need 7000 more workers by 2027.
The Government declared a seasonal labour shortage for the Bay of Plenty from April 15 until May 27. It is the second year a shortage has been announced.
Packhouse bosses say it has been a struggle to find workers, but they are battling through the current harvest.
The real test will come when volumes of gold kiwifruit increase with Zespri releasing 750ha of licence - every year until 2022 subject to annual review. Gold volumes outstripped green for the first time this year.
To combat the shortage, Kiwifruit Growers Inc launched a campaign targeted at attracting more pickers who could expect to be paid $23.50 an hour.
However, a packhouse casual and lab assistant, and First Union have raised concerns about low wages in the industry and the Recognised Seasonal Employment scheme.
The worker who has been in the industry for 30 years, said she was getting minimum wage and felt ''depressed and underpaid''.
The worker, who did not want to be named, provided payslips from 2016 to September 2018 showing she was paid $16.50 per hour last year and $14.75 in March 2016.
The minimum wage rose to $17.70 from $16.60 on April 19.
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''I find myself getting more and more irate ... welcome to our world of no fair pay and no available work no pay,'' she said.
Jared Abbott, a spokesman for the Kiwifruit Workers' Alliance, affiliated with First Union, says RSE workers were on 30-hour minimum contracts, and New Zealanders were not.
In his view ''the reality is decent Kiwis would do that work'' if pay and conditions were better.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson responded that picking and packing wage rates varied between employers.
"There are no minimum industry standards'.'
Picking was physically demanding outside work and weather-related so the hours could vary, she said.
''NZKGI encourages workers to find employers who provide the pay rates, conditions and flexibility that they require.''
Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said there was no need for minimum hours ''as actually, we are managing more workers working at the maximum hour range''.
Some seasonal roles at Seeka could earn as much as $25 an hour.
''We have got a large RSE programme, and increasingly we are dependant on overseas workers, particularly because they will work those shifts that we find hard to man.''
''I think labour will continue to be an issue as volumes keep continuing to go up, but first and foremost we try and hire as many New Zealanders that we can.''
Trevelyan's Pack and Cool managing director James Trevelyan said it had 99 RSE workers that come for seven months and 69 that come for six to eight weeks.
''All staff, whether New Zealanders, backpackers or RSE workers are offered the same hours of work.''
Finding enough labour would always be an issue, he said.
EastPack chief executive Hamish Simson said finding seasonal staff had been an underlining challenge, but its social media campaign had been a success.
''We had more than 1.5million hits. We only need about 3200 seasonal workers, but it was good to get that level of inquiry. ''
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said as the economic value of the kiwifruit industry rose owners and investors had to ensure they shared the economic benefits with the labour force.
''I think they are going to have to start to pay their labour force more handsomely either that or they have to move rapidly to mechanisation. And while my leader is a supporter of the RSE scheme that is never going to be an exclusive solution to an industry growing as such a monumental pace.''
MSD regional commissioner Mike Bryant says they were working with the Bay of Plenty kiwifruit industry to meet labour market needs. This included transport partnerships with different packhouses to help 190 people get to their kiwifruit jobs and 20 subsidised vans and a bus.
Ministry of Social Development data shows from July 2018 to April of this year it had 1435 benefit cancellations in the Bay of Plenty because people moved into seasonal work.
Immigration New Zealand manager George Rarere said RSE scheme employers must comply with minimum remuneration and pay deduction requirements.
All workers in New Zealand must be paid at least the New Zealand minimum wage, which was $17.70 per hour, he said.
The maximum number of places approved in Agreement to Recruit applications at the peak for Bay of Plenty during 2018/2019 is currently 2499.
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment regional labour manager Brent MacDonald said to become an RSE employer; an employer must meet MBIE requirements.
''One of those requirements is that the employer has actively sought to employ New Zealanders first. To assess we meet with local RSE employers and review their labour demand plans for the coming year to see if they're planning to employ New Zealanders first.''
Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said there would be a comprehensive review of the RSE scheme this year, and in 2018 he issued a challenge to employers ''to make the industry more attractive to New Zealand workers, by providing better wages and conditions''.