Back to the news list Highs and lows for Hawke's Bay's fruit season
25 June 2020 - Media Release - The Country

It was not an easy season for any sector of the fruit industry in Hawke's Bay.

The Covid lockdown was handled by employers who ensured workers kept to their bubbles.

The effects of the lockdown have continued as many RSE workers from around the Pacific have not been able to get home since.

Summerfruit grower Brain Fulford, Hastings, said he had 12 ni-Vanuatu workers who were unable to get home until last weekend, when he hired a minibus to get them to Whenuapai on Sunday.

His staff were part of an estimated 4500 ni-Vanuatu people nationwide taken home by the Royal New Zealand Air Force in its biggest airlift in 25 years.

Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone Harold earlier this year and the workers were stuck here knowing their villages had been devastated.

However, there are up to 500 people from Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea still here.

Their return is uncertain because their governments have closed their borders.

However, the drought which has caused so much stress to pastoral farming has been better news for the industry.

Although the apple industry is expanding rapidly there was plenty of labour and picking and packing continued during lockdown.

Gary Jones, of Apples and Pears New Zealand, said the crop appeared to be another record at 400,000 tonnes. It is still early in the selling season but prices could have eased as the Covid outbreak made selling fruit harder work.

"Exporters are working harder to sell the same amount of fruit."

Markets in Europe and the Middle East were solid but Asia was "a bit hand to mouth."

However, the fruit itself was bigger which put it into a higher price bracket.

Royal gala remained the most popular export variety at one-third of the crop, he said.

Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers' Association president Ben James said fruit quality was good, helped by the dry weather which also made picking easier.

"However, it's clear the trees have been under stress during the last 12 months."

Market conditions meant some Braeburn trees were not picked because it was not worth it.

The summer fruit season started with a hailstorm in October that cut the crop by up to 70 per cent, according to sector chair Gareth Hope.

"It's left a big hole in some incomes."

There were no problems with labour because their season is much earlier than pip fruit. The dry weather also made picking easier.

Because some any RSE workers were stuck here they were available for pruning before winter, he said.

Prices and supply were good up until Christmas but eased later.

He said the crop was expected to drop by up to 700 tonnes as summer fruit trees were replaced by apple orchards.

Sector chairman Richard Pentreath described the kiwifruit season was "a bit of a mixed bag."

"High demand for fruit and good prices on the one hand, Covid-19, a hailstorm and the arrival of PSA disease, smaller fruit and lower quantities and the sudden closure of a testing laboratory, on the other," he said.

"It was a perfect storm."

Pentreath said the prolonged drought reduced the dry matter and therefore size and value of the fruit. The closure of the testing lab meant delays in maturity testing, meaning the loss of early-season premiums.

Picking continued through the lockdown and the Covid threat was managed by social distancing and plenty of hand sanitiser.

Production of both green and gold varieties was down on last year at about slightly less than two-million trays of gold. He was not certain of the green output but said it was lower than last year. On the bright side, Japan and China have bought more fruit than ever before and are seeking more.

Growers were feeling quietly thankful given the season's challenges, he said.

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