Friday, 24 May 2024 07:55

Maori kiwifruit operation bounces back

Written by  Peter Burke
Ngai Tukairangi Trust’s Hawke’s Bay operation was severely damaged by cyclone Gabrielle early last year. Ngai Tukairangi Trust’s Hawke’s Bay operation was severely damaged by cyclone Gabrielle early last year.

The chair of the largest Māori kiwifruit growing operation in NZ, Ratahi Cross, says his organisation is on the mend a year on from its Hawke's Bay operation being severely damaged by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Cross who chairs the Ngai Tukairanagi Trust says it's been a very good season and while they are not out of the woords they are recovering well and are optimistic about their future.

Ngai Tukairangi has four kiwifruit and five apple orchards in Hawke's Bay as well as orchards in Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Te Puke and Tairawhiti. While there was damage to the orchards in Tairawhiti, it was the kiwifruit ones in the BOP that suffered the most.

The apple orchards in Hawke's Bay suffered minimal damage. Hawke's Bay makes up about 48% of Ngai Tukairangi's total operations.

Cross says Cyclone Gabrielle cost the Trust around $25 million in lost production, but this loss was compounded by the fact that before the cyclone struck, land values plummeted by around 11% which affected their ability to repay debt. He says the use land values to leverage up the business.

Now more than a year on from the cyclone, the Ngai Tukairangi kiwifruit orchards in Hawke's Bay have produced a good crop of fruit, although the actual yield is about 75% of what it would normally be expected. But while the yield was low, Cross says there was a silver lining.

"There is period right at the beginning of the season - they call it 'early start fruit' and you get a premium on that. Nearly 100% of our Hawke's Bay fruit got into that category and although we didn't have the volumes, we had the ability to get the fruit to the market early, which gave us the early start premium - in other words, extra dollars," he says.

This means they have ticked the box in earnings, at the same time spending a lot of their cash reserves on much-needed repair work while waiting for considerable government assistance. He says coincidentally Ngai Tukairangi just got a $12 million loan from the Government via the Kanoa fund.

"This is absolutely needed and amazing and will be used to redevelop some of our orchards, like the one at Puketapu west of Hastings. Some of that money will be used to offset money we have already spent in getting our orchards back into operation," he says.

Cross says the damaged infrastructure at Puketapu has been repaired and is now ready for new vines to be replanted.

Ratahi Cross 2 FBTW

Ratahi Cross, chair of Ngai Tukairangi Trust says they are well on the way to recovery and are optimistic about their future.

He says they feel like they are on the mend and are very optimistic about their futures despite the traumas of Cyclone Gabrielle.

He says as well as as feeling better about their future as an organisation, they are also feeling better for their staff because they are the engine room of the business.

He says if they can reassure staff about their prospects and future that will bode well for the continued recovery.

"I'd like to think we are out of the deep end and swimming in the shallows, getting out of the pool of depression and the overwhelming pressre that comes with a business that has just been smashed," he says.

Apples Galore

Ratahi Cross says their apple orchards in Hawke's Bay have produced stunning crops, but says the challenge is with the sale of the fruit due to the Ukraine war and other geopolitical events.

He says there is a degree of sluggishness in the market and while people clearly want to buy the fruit, poor economic conditions are making it that much harder.

"I will be happy if we just break even with apples. We have to break even or better because we can't afford even a minor setback," he says.

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