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‘Unbelievable’ harvest

The hot dry summer has sped up maturity of Tairawhiti's kiwifruit crop and pickers have been flat out in the past fortnight.

NZ Fruits, which handles about half of the Gisborne kiwifruit volume, has already finished almost 40 percent of its harvest.

“To have nearly 40 percent harvested already is unbelievable,” said NZ Fruits director Bill Thorpe.

“The hot and dry summer weather conditions have brought the crop forward considerably, and by next week we will be halfway through harvest.”

Mr Thorpe said he had never seen anything like it.

“We've never had so much fruit come in so fast this early.”

NZ Fruits director Trevor Lupton said when the harvest started the fruit quality was good as were yields, which have been up on last year.

It was estimated this region would produce about four million trays of kiwifruit for export this season.

The first export shipment by sea from Gisborne left on Sunday for Japan and the next freighter will be here in a fortnight.

The available labour supply to pick the crop has not been a problem so far for NZ Fruits.

“NZ Fruits is doing OK for labour and the downturn in the forestry industry has helped a wee bit, with some extra workers becoming available,” Mr Thorpe said.

A labour contractor said they could have done with a few more pickers some days but generally they had coped so far.

“It has been an exceptional season so far and, looking forward, if it stays like this quality and yield-wise, it will be one of the best ever,” he said.

The Gisborne Herald was told labour may become a factor later in the season because of the number of backpackers and other overseas people who usually work in the harvest.

“Twenty-five percent of the industry's workforce have international working visas,” New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson told The New Zealand Herald.

“So stricter measures at the border to combat the spread of Covid-19 are expected to have a significant impact on recruitment.

“NZKGI is monitoring the situation seriously and we will have a more accurate view over the next few weeks as the picking and packing increases.

“The number of coronavirus cases in New Zealand and the potential impact of measures to limit the spread of it will obviously play a large role in determining the impact on the kiwifruit industry.”

SO FAR SO GOOD: The kiwifruit harvest here has been in full swing for about two weeks and it’s so far so good when it comes to harvest volumes and labour supplies to pick the crop. This team are pictured at an orchard at Makauri. From left are Kia Andersen, Michael Haines, Chelsea Debruyn and Slade Tiopira. Picture by Liam Clayton