As the coronavirus spreads and kiwifruit harvesting is just months away, eyes are fixated on what this will mean on a market that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy last year. Cira Olivier reports.
The kiwifruit harvest is fast approaching, but with the industry's biggest buyer in lockdown, one Bay grower is starting to worry.
China is New Zealand's biggest kiwifruit market. It brought exporter Zespri around $650 million in sales last season.
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Bay of Plenty grower Rob Thode said he was watching the news of the coronavirus "with great concern" as the illness spread through the world.
"It depends how long the coronavirus lasts; if it's short then we could be okay, but if it lasts longer then it could really bite."
A drop in the Chinese market would also mean a drop in the price of kiwifruit.
Thode said the impact of the outbreak would not be noticeable until April when the crop came online.
"China is one of our best-paying markets ... a large chunk of our kiwifruit go there," he said.
"They're an important market for us."
He said there would be no immediate effect on jobs. Another grower was looking on the bright side.
Te Puke's Don Heslop said sales were good when the virus first broke as kiwifruit was a health product.
He said it came down to when China would open the borders again and did not want to speculate.
It would be a month and a half before the first ship arrived to collect kiwifruit for export and Heslop said the outbreak might be under control by then.
"The thing is, it's a food product and China can only close their borders for so long. They need food," he said. There were other ports in China which could be an option.
A Zespri spokesperson said it had about 70 staff based in China, mainly from the Shanghai office.
The employees were in good health and working from home while the Zespri office was closed, the spokesperson said.
The Chinese government encouraged citizens to work from home until February 10 and self-isolate for 14 days if they had travelled outside of their hometown.
"The distribution networks remained unaffected by the virus situation for our Italian-grown kiwifruit, with our New Zealand-grown kiwifruit not scheduled to arrive in China until April.
"Our focus remains on supporting our people and we will continue to actively monitor the situation," the spokesperson said.
Trevelyan's, a packhouse and coolstore in Te Puke, is the largest single-site kiwifruit packing operation in New Zealand with 1650 seasonal staff between March and June each year as well as 170 permanent staff.
Health and safety manager Pete Rowland said the recruitment requirements now included disclosing which countries workers had been through.
Current staff were also asked to disclose this and were briefed on the need for personal hygiene including thoroughly washing hands, he said.
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the virus would affect the economy and it would take at least six months for the world to "reorganise itself," and get back to where it was pre-outbreak.
He said businesses needed to plan for worst-case scenarios which would build resilience.
"We will see an impact; I'm not sure how severe it will be," he said.
The impact on local exporters was unlikely to cripple the Bay of Plenty economy, he said.
"But to be honest, no one is too sure."
The advice to businesses was to have close awareness of their customers, the risks, and speak with financial advisers.
Overall exports at the Port of Tauranga had increased by 11.2 per cent to 17.1 million tonnes for the year ended June 30 2019 on the year before.
Of this, kiwifruit exports reached more than 1.5 million tonnes.
Chief executive Mark Cairns had previously said the scare would hit Port of Tauranga export volumes "no question", but the fallout would be short-term.