Gold and green rush underway as kiwifruit season kicks off

The 2019 kiwifruit harvest has officially kicked off with the first of an estimated industry-wide 150 million trays picked and packed in Gisborne.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) chief executive officer Nikki Johnson said Poverty Bay leads the charge because the crop matures more quickly there than the rest of the country. 

"Over 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," she said

The first run of kiwifruit is predominantly the gold variety, with the green kiwifruit harvest coming into full force in late March. The last fruit is picked in June.

Zespri Chief Grower & Alliances Officer Dave Courtney said the first fruit picking is an exciting time for the industry.

"We always look forward to the start of harvest - and this year, we're expecting a fantastic crop of great-tasting fruit to provide to Zespri consumers around the world," he said.

Ms Johnson said it was not clear yet if there will be a labour shortage in the sector, a risk the NZKGI had sought to proactively mitigate through a programme of outreach and promotion to potential labour sources over the first quarter of 2019. 

"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."

Ms Johnson says the industry will require around 18,000 workers through the harvest period, with the recruitment campaign targeting kiwis including student and retirees and backpackers.

Workers at EastPack get underway with the kiwifruit harvest.
Workers at EastPack get underway with the kiwifruit harvest. Photo credit: Supplied

EastPack Ltd was among a number of growers picking early fruit this year. 

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 by next week," he said.