It could be four weeks before Bay of Plenty's biggest kiwifruit producer knows whether some of this year's harvest will be accepted into Europe.

Speaking to NZME today, chief grower Dave Courtney said the first ship bound for Europe was expected to leave at the end of this week.

"We will know in four weeks what we will land into."

It is expected 155 million trays of kiwifruit will be picked this year.

David Courtney, Zespri chief grower and alliances officer. Photo / File
David Courtney, Zespri chief grower and alliances officer. Photo / File

Courtney said the situation surrounding Covid-19 was changing every day but he was confident the kiwifruit industry could cope.

"I think what we're going to see across the world in our markets actually is strong demand for the product. It's a healthy product and people are wanting to eat healthy for obvious reasons. The challenge is going to be them getting to us or us getting to them.

"We're also hearing the authorities here talk about the critical importance of food flowing across borders, particularly perishable foods, so clearly we're in that category - because people have to eat at the end of the day."

However, a more immediate challenge facing Zespri was overcoming a labour shortage which has resulted from Government-imposed restrictions due to coronavirus.

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"One of our big concerns at the moment is onshore. Some of the rules put in place certainly has restricted some of the original resources of labour such as RSE [workers], disrupted the flow of them and also backpackers, so the industry is quite concerned about not having the labour to pick and pack the crop which is ironic given some of the concerns in other industries around jobs falling away."

Courtney said Zespri was working with New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers (NZKGI) in an attempt to match some jobs with people who have lost work because of coronavirus.

Chief executive Nikki Johnson said the group was pulling out all the stops to find workers.


"We've got less backpackers in the country and they're normally an important part of our workforce and so that indicates to us we're probably going to see some worker shortages. The extent of that is not going to be clear until we get to the peak of the harvest."

She said travel disruption for backpackers was not the only thing they were worried about.

"There could well be some disruption if anything changes with respect to people entering the country from the Pacific so that's where New Zealanders are particularly important to us."

Johnson said she believed they had a good system in place to protect workers.

"The industry has really strong procedures around personal hygiene and wellbeing for our workers and so we are confident we can identify any risks around coronavirus and make sure we are managing the risks for our workforce."