Coronavirus: Growers fear millions of fruit will rot on trees

One Hawke's Bay grower fears 12 million of his apples will rot on the trees because the lockdown has slowed production.

The apple and kiwifruit industries are facing growing uncertainty as the COVID-19 crisis shuts down supply chains around the world.

Apple trees are overflowing at this time of the year. But for Yummy Fruit manager Paul Paynter it's a picking season like he's never seen before.

"This is really unique," he told Newshub.

That's because the nationwide lockdown has come right in the middle of the apple harvest.

Usually bustling packhouses are slowing down due to social distancing rules.

"[It's] pretty traumatic, very hard on the staff," Paynter says.

"In an already difficult time of the year they're already tired and stretched and it's a whole other level of complexity and pressure but that's just the game, we've got to suck it up."

This year's apple and pear crop was predicted to reach 600,000 tonnes, a 5 percent increase on 2019.

Exports were climbing too, with 22.7m 18-kilogram boxes due to be sent to more than 80 countries. That growth is now not so certain.

"Asia's now our biggest international marketplace and outside of China most of them are in lockdown so the fruit markets are closed and distribution's difficult," Paynter says.

The impact of COVID-19 being felt across the entire industry.

"That certainly slows the distribution cycle down and makes it more challenging to get our product eventually to customer," NZ Apples and Pears CEO Alan Pollard told Newshub.

Kiwifruit growers have avoided a severe worker shortage amid the pandemic. Thousands of New Zealanders are putting their hands up as border restrictions halt tourists coming to pick fruit.

"We are also slightly down on capacity but at the moment looking pretty good in terms of being able to manage the fruit that we have right now, and I guess the crunch will come when we get to the peak of the harvest," NZ Kiwifruit Growers CEO Nikki Johnson says.

Fruit growers like Paynter hoping to soften any financial blow.

"We're going to get 90 percent of it in and we've got to make sure that it's the 90 percent that's worth the most money," he says.

Picking optimism to get through his hardest harvest yet.