NZ avocado thefts: Farmer's trees 'entirely stripped' of crops - FreshFruitPortal.com

NZ avocado thefts: Farmer's trees 'entirely stripped' of crops

Some 50 avocado trees were completely gutted by robbers last week on a farm in New Zealand, reports local news Stuff.com. Robbers stripped vineyard and avocado farm owner Hamish Jardine's trees in Hawke's Bay after cutting through a fence.

"New Zealand is in full harvest, there's no shortage of avocados at the moment, plenty of seconds around. I can't explain the stupidity and desperation. They've gone to a hell of a lot of trouble for ... I can't even say a profit. The whole situation 'just beggars belief," law enforcement officer Alasdair Macmillan, who responded to the call, was quoted saying.

Jardine estimated that each tree held about 50 to 70 avocados. He explained the scenario.

"I was suspicious. I did a circuit around the trees but didn't see anything, but it was the Sunday I saw that the trees had been completely wiped out," he said.

Burglars parked near the entrance of the farm's beehives the day the theft occurred. He detailed that robbers may have hidden under low hanging tree branches as he drove past the area. The farmer may have potentially "disturbed" the robbers in their process without even knowing it.

Jardine went on to say that he will have to implement security measures in the future.

"You can't make it impossible for someone to steal avocados, but you can certainly make it difficult."

The Avocado Association reached out to Jardine to say that similar things have been occurring in the country.

New Zealand's farmers ongoing struggle with avocado theft

A similar event occurred in June of this year when farmer Neville Cooper was stolen from for the eighth time. Farmers like Cooper and Jardine have taken sometimes extreme - but necessary - measures to prevent theft.

Regular burglaries have caused New Zealand avocado growers to set up cameras and electric fences. Farmers sometimes even camp in their fields to catch robbers in the night.

“I bought tents and put them in the orchards with torches on all night, I had fences, gates, security cameras – the whole nine yards. Nothing stopped them," grower Ashby Whitehead told The Guardian back in 2018.

This was an even bigger issue in 2018 when a wave of crime hit as avocado prices soared and organized theft was even more widespread. One grower told The Guardian last year that his farm has been the target of theft for five years.

In the Bay of Plenty, dozens of thefts occurred last year and two people were attacked by robbers. One grower had US$65,000 worth of avocados stolen in 2018.

Stolen fruit is often sold online, at roadside stalls and in smaller supermarkets, say growers. Last year, an industry body explained that the robberies were mostly opportunistic, resulting from the shortage of avocados and spike in prices.

However, there is currently no shortage of avocados and burglaries are less common. So, many see recent developments as petty relative to last year when thieves organized around the shortage.

About the New Zealand avocado industry

The New Zealand avocado industry primarily grows Hass variety avocados in the Bay of Plenty and Northland regions.

Stuff.com says that the "alluring black market" behind the New Zealand avocado industry is complex.

New Zealand police authorities told consumers to be wary of suspicious avocado sellers. It urged the public to stop buying from unknown sources.

"Also be aware of where you're buying avocados from, whether it be in person or on social media. If it's too good to be true, it probably is," commented Jardine.