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Kiwifruit harvest goes well . . . now for apples

KIWIFRUIT and apple croppers in the region have been coping well when it comes to labour for picking fruit with some kiwifruit growers having already finished their harvests.

NZ Fruits, which handles about half the region's kiwifruit crop, had more than 60 percent of its crop picked.

“We have adequate staff to meet our harvest needs,” said director Trevor Lupton.

“We shut down our packhouse for four days from Monday to reconfigure it to meet the Covid-19 safety requirements for our staff.”

Mr Lupton said “the crunch time” had passed for the harvest.

“We expect to have it all finished within about four weeks.”

The district will produce about four million trays of kiwifruit this season.

The freighter Ice Ranger berthed at Eastland Port yesterday to load around 1100 pallets of kiwifruit before heading to Tauranga tonight.

Grower Tim Egan finished his kiwifruit harvest two weeks ago.

“We did not have any trouble finding people to help with the harvest.

“They were coming to us from other jobs affected by the Covid-19 lockdown and there were others prepared to come and give us a hand. We've since started picking our apples.”

Mr Lupton said the new social distancing protocols for pickers had been put in place under the Covid-19 requirements.

Kaiaponi Farms general manager Scott Wilson said apple harvest labour had been a challenge.

“But then it always is. We have had some overseas RSE (Recognised Season Employer scheme) staff unable to enter the country this season because of the virus, but local labour has stepped up, and some have come from other industries to work with the harvest. We're coping.”

Their apple pick was about 35 percent complete as of yesterday.

“At the moment things are fine when it comes to the available labour force, but there is some apprehension around what might happen in the weeks ahead.”

Kaiaponi last week started to pick its main late season apple variety Envy.

Mr Wilson said throughput in their packhouse had been reduced to maintain staff separation requirements under the Covid-19 protocols.

“We have the appropriate number of people in the packhouse in the current circumstances.

“We have about four weeks left in the apple harvest and eight-to-10 weeks until the last apple is packed this season, all going well.

“Once we get all fruit harvested and into cool storage we will feel a little more comfortable,” Mr Wilson said.

“It's been an exceptional year for us. Fruit finish and eating quality is high.

“The recovered yields and pack-out figures are as good as we have ever seen — certainly above average.”

JAPAN BOUND: The freighter Ice Ranger has been alongside the Gisborne wharf since yesterday loading the second kiwifruit shipment of the season, a consignment of around 1100 pallets. Harvesting continues at pace around the district, with an estimated four million trays to be exported from here this season. The Ice Ranger sails tonight to load further cargo in Tauranga and then heads for Japan. The Baltic Pearl returns for more kiwifruit on April 20 and there will be two further shipments after that. Picture by Liam Clayton