The Gold – and Green – Kiwi rush is on

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This year’s kiwifruit harvest is officially underway in March with an initial estimated industry-wide 150 million trays picked and packed in Gisborne. But potential labour shortage issues are very much on the industry’s radar.

The kiwifruit industry’s global revenue is expected to jump from more than $2 billion in 2017 to $6 billion by 2030 and industry experts have said that a critical labour shortage could hinder this growth. In comparison with 2017 numbers, the kiwifruit industry will require an additional 7000 workers by 2027.

NZKGI chief executive Nikki Johnson said it was not yet clear if there would be a repeat of previous labour shortage issues in the sector.

NZKGI had sought to mitigate the risk through a programme of outreach and promotion to potential labour sources over the first quarter of 2019, she said. (see accompanying story)

“We’ve gone all out to tell our potential workers about the roles, pay and other important information – and dispel some of the myths about the work. We’ll soon know if it’s had an impact, when the major picking starts, and we’ll be doing contingency planning if we do have an issue in a month’s time.”

We’ve gone all out to tell our potential workers about the roles, pay and other important information – and dispel some of the myths about the work.” – Nikki Johnson

Johnson said the industry would require around 18,000 workers through the harvest period, with the recruitment campaign targeting Kiwis including student and retirees and backpackers.

The first run of kiwifruit is predominantly the Gold variety, with the Green kiwifruit harvest coming into full force now. The last fruit is typically picked in June.

Faster maturity

Poverty Bay led the charge this year because the crop matured more quickly there than the rest of the country, said Johnson.

“During March, orchards in the Bay of Plenty, Northland, Counties-Manukau, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, the lower North Island and Tasman will follow suit – it’s going to be a bumper crop.”

EastPack was among a number of growers picking early fruit this year and chief executive officer Hamish Simson said the company was expecting the season to start earlier than usual.

“We’ve already packed fruit at our Edgecumbe and Opotiki sites and expect our other four sites to be in full swing now.

“Labour supply is well and truly on our radar and the team has run a comprehensive programme to make sure we provide people with an awesome experience working in the kiwifruit industry.”

Zespri chief grower and alliances officer Dave Courtney said the first fruit picking was an exciting time for the industry.

“We always look forward to the start of harvest,” he said.

“And this year, we’re expecting a fantastic crop of great-tasting fruit to provide to Zespri consumers around the world.”

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