New Zealand kiwifruit industry working on coronavirus mitigation plan amid larger crop

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New Zealand kiwifruit industry working on coronavirus mitigation plan amid larger crop

The New Zealand kiwifruit industry is working to mitigate disruption from the global coronavirus outbreak, amid expectations for an even larger crop than last year.

Picking for the 2020 season is now underway in Gisborne and the Bay of Plenty, and New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. (NZKGI) says there will likely be around 155m trays of Green and Gold kiwifruit harvested, up from 147m last year.

It is predominantly the Gold variety which is first picked, followed by Green kiwifruit in late March. The last fruit is picked in June.

Alongside the picking of Green and Gold kiwifruit, Zespri Red Kiwifruit will also be picked as a commercial variety. The sweet, berry-tinged tasting kiwifruit will be destined for markets in Japan and Singapore as well as supermarket shelves in New Zealand.

Nikki Johnson, CEO of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. (NZKGI), says that consumers should expect the fruit to be tasting great. However, there are some potential hurdles around dry weather, Coronavirus and seasonal labour availability.

“As the kiwifruit is packed, we will start to have a clearer picture of the impact of this years’ hot and dry weather which may be influential,” says Nikki.

In addition to the dry weather, this season also has an emphasis on being well prepared for potential disruption from Coronavirus. Fruit sales in China were heavily affected in February as consumers preferred to stay at home.

“As we are working with a food crop, the industry already has strong processes in place around food safety and personal hygiene and these will continue to be important,” says Nikki.

"The industry is working together to plan and mitigate disruption and will be following public health recommendations."

Based on the forecast volume and spread of the harvest season, it is currently forecast that around 20,000 workers will be required throughout the harvest period.

However, Nikki says it will become clearer if there are sufficient workers as the industry gets closer to the peak of harvest and the requirement for significantly more seasonal workers increases.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. says it has taken proactive steps to mitigate the likely labor risk and will be communicating on the steps which will be taken over the coming weeks. 

In addition, NZKGI has been in conversations with forestry organizations to ascertain if there is the ability to provide opportunities to forestry employees while there is a lull in wood exports.

Zespri Chief Grower & Alliances Officer Dave Courtney says Zespri was expecting another great tasting crop with more SunGold than Green kiwifruit.

“This year we’re again expecting to have more SunGold than Green kiwifruit, and of course we’ll be bringing an increasing amount of Zespri Red Kiwifruit to market following last year’s limited release.

“We’re also excited to introduce our new brand to consumers and progressively roll this out to markets across the year,” Courtney says.

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