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Kiwifruit orchardists rally despite numerous setbacks

Te Puke Times,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Mar 2023, 4:31pm
Flooding at Tammy Hill's Paengaroa kiwifruit orchard.
Flooding at Tammy Hill's Paengaroa kiwifruit orchard.

Kiwifruit orchardists rally despite numerous setbacks

Te Puke Times,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Mar 2023, 4:31pm

The kiwifruit industry is rallying around those in its midst who have been hit by an almost perfect storm of challenges.

Kiwifruit grower and New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) executive board member Tammy Hill says while weather events like high winds, frost, hail, flooding and higher-than-average rainfall have all presented major difficulties in a variety of combinations for growers this season, they aren’t the only issues.

“A lot of growers had really variable bud breaks this year, so their crops are a lot lower than what we’ve normally come to expect,” she says.

There has also been a financial hit. Growers are paid in staggered monthly progress payments throughout the year.

In January, Zespri announced green kiwifruit producers would not receive their February progress payments as fruit quality issues had resulted in additional costs.

“We knew that there were quality issues, but we thought they were all accounted for, so that was a big shock to everyone right across the industry,” says Tammy.

Some growers have had to approach their bank for a loan, and not all have received a positive response.

Those that have now also have interest payments to find.

Tammy’s own orchard, made up of around one hectare of gold kiwifruit vines and 14ha of green vines, was hit by flooding at the end of January.

“We lost about two hectares [of green kiwifruit] in the flood. Unfortunately, the water just sat there for about eight days. It just had nowhere to go.”

She says it feels like growers are getting hammered and there is no end to it.

“Normally, you deal with one or two of these things in a season, and that’s part of being in horticulture, but we’ve had all those things.”

Zespri has brought forward its 10 cents per tray loyalty payment for the 2022 season, which will be paid this month.

“That’s something for growers, but obviously that’s going to have to come off at the other end,” says Tammy.

Around two hectares of green kiwifruit vines have been lost at this Paengaroa orchard as a result of the Auckland Anniversary weekend flooding.

Around two hectares of green kiwifruit vines have been lost at this Paengaroa orchard as a result of the Auckland Anniversary weekend flooding.

However, she believes the industry will bounce back.

“For a lot of growers, this isn’t their first rodeo - they’ve been through things before. Psa wasn’t that long ago, and there was another massive frost event 20 years ago.

“For some growers, this is the first time because of the changing face of the industry, but for others, they’ve been through it before, and those are the type of growers you can reach out to and talk about how they got through, and that’s where this industry is so great - it’s such a community, and there is a support network that exists.

“People just want to help in whatever capacity they can, whether it’s financial, with a generator, with posts to help them rebuild - people have been amazing, and that’s the great thing about this industry.

“There’s lot of stories of growers helping other growers because they have the machinery or they have the labour, or whatever.”

There is no doubt, she says, growers are stressed. On top of the recent events, some growers have paid top dollar for orchards, have paid for licenses and labour costs have increased significantly.

“But they are also optimistic that we’ll get through this and make it work.

“I’m really proud of the work that NZKGI are doing in the space of pastoral care, and it’s really great to see Zespri and Post-Harvest also doing a lot of work in that space. We have to look after our people.”

She says she thinks the situation is recoverable, but many growers will be making decisions on whether to replant, whether to invest in greater frost protection and whether to improve drainage - all of which costs money.

With harvesting having already started, Tammy says getting pickers on orchards will be a psychological boost for growers.

“My biggest thing is to encourage growers to reach out, whether to a neighbour or friend, and make sure you are getting off the orchard, having a break and all those things.

The Bay of Plenty Rural Support Trust is a charitable organisation set up to work with the rural community when times are tough.

Regional co-ordinator Jodie Craig says the trust has a facilitator working in the area.

“He can go out and meet with the grower or anyone involved and just have a chat about where they are going and how they’re feeling, how they are tracking and how we can support them with applying for funds.”

Through SociaLink, growers can be connected with volunteers willing to help.

“We try to provide information from MPI and different agencies that we deal with and support them.”

Jodie is looking at organising an event with a speaker in the Te Puke area to help connect people.

“It’s really important to get off the land, because often they live there as well as work there, and social connection is one of the key wellbeing factors.”

“It’s dwindling in the rural sectors, so we are just trying to improve that connectivity. People meeting each other and talking about it really helps people through times of hardship.”

NZKGI has teamed up with Farmstrong to produce a book, Live Well, Grow Well, that tells the stories of experienced growers and industry figures who have navigated tough times before and share what they now do to manage their workloads and stress.

Live Well, Grow Well will be distributed free to growers at the Kiwifruit Growers’ annual pre-harvest roadshows.


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