Friday, 16 February 2024 15:12

2024 kiwifruit harvest begins

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Bruce and Shirley Farley with Natalie Grujesic, grower relationship manager at Punchbowl. Bruce and Shirley Farley with Natalie Grujesic, grower relationship manager at Punchbowl.

New Zealand’s 2024 kiwifruit harvest has kicked off with the first crop picked in Auckland, and more kiwifruit to be picked around New Zealand over the coming months.

Growers Bruce and Shirley Farley had their orchard of red kiwifruit harvested by operators Punchbowl yesterday.

Weather creating ideal growing conditions for much of the country has meant that the 2024 season is forecast to ship a significantly higher volume of 193 million trays, up from the 133 million trays exported last year. On average, each tray has around 30 pieces of kiwifruit. Zespri’s sweet, berry-tinged tasting RubyRed variety is picked first for supermarket shelves in New Zealand and some overseas markets, which is then followed by the Gold and Green varieties.

The harvest traditionally peaks in mid-April and runs through until June. While growers will not be able to relax until all the fruit is off their vines, there is cautious optimism that the 2024 season will be very fruitful in comparison to recent years.

Last year’s adverse weather brought about by cyclones Gabrielle and Hale significantly impacted a number of kiwifruit orchards around the country and the ongoing ramifications are still being managed as a small number of growers make decisions about rebuilding their businesses.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc (NZKGI) chief executive Colin Bond says the cyclones impact on orchards affected many growers’ welfare and financial viability.

“It was reassuring to see the industry rally around those requiring support, which still continues with the long-term facilitation of alleviating pressures on those impacted. 2023’s adverse weather combined with increasing operating costs have put many growers under significant financial pressure and we are hoping that the 2024 harvest will be successful to provide some respite.”

Zespri CEO Dan Mathieson says growing conditions have been largely favourable in recent weeks, helping support the industry’s efforts to deliver an outstanding and much larger crop this season.

“Our focus in 2024 must again be on continuing the important progress we’ve made in lifting our fruit quality and delivering consistently high-quality fruit throughout the season. Demand for Zespri Kiwifruit is strong, especially after last season’s lower New Zealand volume and we know the fruit we can get to market in good condition will sell and sell well, helping maximise the value we can return to growers. Strong returns are important given the challenges of the last two years and we need to hold as much of the value we have achieved this season, even with more fruit available.

“We’ve had really positive discussions in meeting with many of our key customers in market who are excited for the season ahead and expected higher volumes. There’s been extensive season planning taking place and as an industry we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to start the season strongly. Our market teams have also been developing more exciting sales and marketing campaigns to help get our fruit moving quickly so we can have a positive start and secure good value.”

The large volume of kiwifruit forecast this year is also positive for local employment across regions where kiwifruit is grown. Well over 20,000 people will be required to pick and pack this year’s harvest. Early indicators are showing that while there will be plenty of jobs available for seasonal workers, employers have indicated that a severe shortage of labour is not foreseen at this time. People interested in participating in harvest can visit the NZKGI website which has information on working in the industry, including a list of employers.

“Harvest is one of the peak periods for work in the kiwifruit industry and there are roles to suit everyone, says Bond.

“A large workforce of pickers are required from around March to June to harvest the fruit from the vines once it is ready. When harvested, the kiwifruit crop must be packed at one of the industry’s many packhouses. Roles within the packhouses suit a variety of people and involve working shifts. They include sorting and grading, packing the fruit into trays, forklift operation and machinery operation. While some of these roles are skilled roles, others do not require a particular skill, so there is something for everyone. It’s rewarding, flexible, and the pay rates are competitive, says Bond.

In 2023 the average payrate for picking both gold and green kiwifruit was around $29. Rates varied from minimum wage to around $40 an hour. Similarly for packing, in 2023, the average payrate for an unskilled worker in a packhouse was $23.70 and for a skilled worker it was $27.01. Rates varied from minimum wage to around $50 an hour.

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