Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, New Zealand Apples & Pears

It is hard to avoid the fact that labour (or more correctly the lack of it) continues to dominate the season. We are now well advanced with harvest, and there are numerous stories of labour not being available or not turning up, and crops not being picked. Members may have seen the recent media stand up, where a number of our members, supported by the processing and meat sectors, invited media for an update on the season and to hear first-hand the consequences of the labour shortage.

At the briefing, I noted that our revised national export crop estimate was now 3m cartons or 14% down on last season. Many say that even this is optimistic. A 14% drop equates to about $130m in lost export earnings, and a broader economic impact of somewhere between $390m and $650m for provincial New Zealand.

In my view, our fate is sealed for this season. There is no prospect of more RSE workers coming into New Zealand in time for our current picking/packing season, and it is likely that through various industry and employer programmes all back packers and kiwis who could be targeted have been targeted. Our focus has now turned to pruning and thinning, and next year’s harvest.

The Trans-Tasman travel bubble may free up some MIQ space which could open up some opportunity for further workers from the Pacific, but the numbers will be limited and the costs likely to be similar to those that applied to the 2,000 border exception. None-the-less we are looking at options to support our growers through pruning and thinning.

We have indicated to government, including to the Prime Minister when she visited Hawke’s Bay, that we cannot survive nor accept another season next year like we have experienced this year. We have also indicated that our expectations are that we will be able to bring in over 10,000 workers for the next season. We do not accept that MIQ should be the vehicle for such worker movement, particularly given the Covid-free status of the Pacific Islands. There are a number of options that we are exploring, for example a vaccinated mobile pacific workforce; a pacific travel bubble; private regional isolation facilities.

You may have noticed that our media exposure has increased and the tone has changed – expect to see more of this in the coming weeks.

On a final note, I want to acknowledge the passing of Annie Aranui, the MSD East Coast Regional Commissioner. Annie touched so many lives in the Hawke’s Bay/East Coast region, and was a strong champion for and supporter of our industry. Our relationship with MSD in this region strengthened under Annie’s leadership and she will be sorely missed.

Jens Liesebach,  KGI Lower North Island Representative

Harvest is in full swing and some lucky growers have finished picking their crop. The start of the G3 harvest was early, but then eased off, as the dry matter build-up was slower than expected. Zespri adjusted the Kiwistart rate to encourage early picking. The first green kiwifruit was picked in the Hawke’s Bay last week, which is about normal for this variety.

The first shipment of kiwifruit has arrived in South Korea, Japan and China. The fruit was aboard the MV Kakariki, the second of three new specialised reefer vessels built by Fresh Carriers to ship New Zealand-grown kiwifruit to Zespri’s Asian markets. Alastair Hulbert, Zespri’s Chief Global Supply Officer, says MV Kakariki is the first of 57 planned charter reefer vessels under Zespri’s shipping programme this season, up from the 49 charter vessels used last season. This season will see five sailings to North Europe, 12 to the Mediterranean and 40 to Zespri’s Asian markets. Zespri expects to send around 18,000 containers of kiwifruit, the equivalent of 177 million trays or 700,00 tonnes- a record-breaking crop of New Zealand-grown Zespri Kiwifruit.

A series of town halls and online discussions are also planned over the coming months to help provide growers with the information necessary to make an informed decision on the proposed one-year Gold3 trial in China. These discussions will commence on April 22 at 6pm with Zespri Chief Growth Officer, Jiunn Shih. This online session moderated by NZKGI will cover the importance of validating different branding options in the Chinese market. Please register your interest with Zespri. More details can be found on the Zespri Canopy.

The X. International Symposium on Kiwifruit (Kiwifruit 2021), will be held as a virtual (online) Symposium, from 27-30 September 2021. New Zealand growers are invited to attend and there is a discount on registrations until 31 August. More information can be found at www.kiwifruit2021.org.

Richard Mills, Summerfruit NZ Market Support

Summerfruit NZ has appointed a new CEO, Kate Hellstrom. Kate is based in Wellington and is looking forward to visiting the regions to meet and greet Summerfruit growers.

Alongside Kate’s appointment, a new chair for the Summerfruit NZ Board will be ratified at the time of the AGM in June.  As a result of the industry review there is subtle but continuing change inside the organization. Whilst there seems to be a number of changes in our sector, change is good for on-going development and growth of the industry.

Changes are also occurring in orchard ownership here in Hawke’s Bay and in Central Otago. These changes seem to be driven by farm gate prices, weather and an older grower demographic profile. Should you sell or buy an orchard, or have a change in lease arrangements, please let us know and we will amend our records accordingly.

Pruning is underway, where it’s not conflicting with apple harvest! It’s good practice to make, at least the big cuts, during the dry warmer period and if necessary, do the detail later in the season. That said dry is the order of the day, and as I’ve suggested previously the trees would love a good drink. Summerfruit NZ’s Research Manager has suggested the trees need 100mm over three days to give the roots at the deeper layer a good drink. Metservice is suggesting warmer and drier than normal for this period, with westerly winds. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, if you have irrigation it would seem like a good time to turn it on again.

I was recently in Wellington participating in a seminar on Regenerative Agriculture. Although I took down a healthy degree of scepticism, in part fuelled by grower comments, I came away feeling this is something that our industry needs to keep an eye on and indeed participate in. The Apple Futures, KiwiGreen and SummerGreen systems appear to have helped our product groups to at least be on the continuum of improvement if not a fair way along it. It’s not something to be wary of, more something to benefit from.

The seminar discussed the need for change to be driven by growers and groups of growers identifying issues and actioning changes, rather than local or central government driving the change. With this thinking, there should be an opportunity for the ag. and hort. industry to work together in an area, or at catchment levels, much in the manner of the Twyford Water Users Group. This bottom-up approach would seem to be at odds with what Greenpeace is demanding for Regen.Ag.

I will keep an eye on this space and see what transpires!

Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, New Zealand Apples & Pears

As I write this, the apple harvest is nearing its peak. What we are hearing from industry is concerning.

The whole industry from Gisborne to Central Otago is under huge pressure – growers and their teams are stressed and distressed. Blocks and varieties are being sacrificed; many orchardists are managing only one pick; pack houses are struggling to operate; the impact of the labour shortage is biting hard. This is one time when it is so gutting to be proven right – my colleagues from summerfruit, kiwifruit, wine, Horticulture NZ and Master Contractors, and I predicted and submitted to government back in November 2020 what the labour shortage may look like if the government did not get its policy settings right, including the economic and social consequences. The reality is largely just as we predicted.

Our thoughts are with all growers, their families and their staff – it is important that you look after yourselves and each other during this time. Signs of stress include being tired and run down, irritable, often sick with colds or flus, quick and noticeable weight loss or weight gain, dependency on caffeine to get through the day, argumentative, self-degrading, mood, personality or behaviour swings, lack of appetite or disinterest. If you feel any of these, or notice these in a colleague, talk to friends and relevant professionals, try and stay positive, stay active,  find what works for you to get a good night’s sleep, take time to ‘get away from it all’ from time to time, have a plan of action, any action and get on with it. If you need help or someone to talk to, you can contact Rural Support 0800 787 254, Depression Line 0800 111 757, or the Mental Health Foundation 1737.

The Prime Minister was in Hawke’s Bay last Thursday, with Ministers O’Connor, Parker, Nash and Shaw. I indicated to her that we cannot have another season like this one, and that government policy settings have to change. My industry colleagues and I have already started that discussion with government Ministers, and asked that officials be assigned to begin work with us now on a viable solution.

Richard Mills, Summerfruit NZ Market Support

Summerfruit NZ is in the process of selecting a new Chief Executive. We have been fortunate over the past 12 months for the expertise and knowledge Richard Palmer has imparted. Richard is back in Canberra with his family due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, and whilst communications are limited to Zoom and phone calls, even though it isn’t ideal, it works surprisingly well for the Summerfruit team. We’ve all have to adapt to new ways of integrating new systems and communications due to Covid and this really is the new norm of business moving forward.

The Chairman of the Summerfruit NZ Board will also be retiring at this year’s AGM. Tim Jones has given 12 years to the Summerfruit industry and has led us admirably through some challenging times.

Our Summerfruit Conference will be held in Napier, on the x June.  This is a time reconnect with other Summerfruit growers and to become a registered voter. Growers are asked to complete a planted hectares declaration to be eligible to vote. This has been emailed to growers, and the link can be found in our weekly Prunings e-newsletter. For those who have not yet members, please contact anna.clark@summerfruitnz.co.nz to join.

Harvest will continue for another two weeks with late plums, mostly Royal Star and Malone varieties along with Peacharines from Mangaweka. Supply from Central Otago will also be for another two or three weeks. We probably have three or four weeks of sales and then the shelf space will be freed up for apples and kiwifruit.

The labour situation is extremely tight and when we think about the soft demand for local market fruit and vegetables this summer there may well be some restructuring to occur. At this stage I have heard of two significant stonefruit blocks for sale – we shall see what transpires. Growers are now thinking about pruning and the next growing season and wondering where the skilled people are going to come from, without coming up with many answers. The same discussions are occurring with the Central Otago orchardists with similar unanswered questions.

The second part of the 2020/21 season has been challenging for local market sales after what was a relatively prosperous first part. There was a rainfall event that tuned up some apricots and cherries pre-Christmas but from then on, the weather has been warm and dry. There were big volumes grown and lots of fruit moved though the markets. To keep the prices at a reasonable level for the whole season we now need to consider volume adjustments and exporting more of the fruit.

Covid-19 labour issues will be focusing the thought processes and bringing forward decision making.

Jens Liesebach,  KGI Lower North Island Representative

The 2021 kiwifruit harvest kicked off in Gisborne two weeks ago (week 9), with early blocks in Hawke’s Bay starting last week (week 10). The 2021 season forecast is set to be record-breaking, with more kiwifruit produced than ever before.

A number of growers have been affected by positive residue tests this season as a result of Zespri’s stringent residue testing programme. This serves as a timely reminder for all growers of the need to carefully manage spray drift, particularly between neighbouring properties.

The Zespri Roadshow last week, covered the latest progress in regards to the unauthorised plantings of approximately 4000 hectares of G3 in China. It is thought that legal action on its own won’t be enough to manage G3 plant material in China and therefore a partnership with Chinese state and local government might be the best way forward. Zespri is proposing a trial phase of up to three years which will require an approval by the kiwifruit growers. A Producer vote will be held later this year.

NZKGI CEO, Nikki Johnson discussed the impact of the hail event in Motueka in December 2020. The loss to the affected kiwifruit growers will be approximately $21m but there is only $7m worth of industry hail insurance cover for Gold 3. For this reason, NZKGI is running a survey on its webpage to seek grower’s views on how to deal with this shortcoming of hail insurance cover.

This was also Nikki’s last roadshow, as she resigned from her position in order to take up a new role as a Strategic Projects Manager with Zespri in Italy. We thank Nikki for her excellent service to the kiwifruit and wider fruit growing industry.

Good luck with harvest.

Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, New Zealand Apples & Pears

I had the privilege of attending the recent HBFA awards night. Congratulations to all involved in putting the event together and for making it a great celebration of achievement and recognition. It is encouraging to see so many people choosing horticulture as a career and pursuing qualifications to support this. Our future work force relies on there being access to a motivated and skilled pool of talent, and I acknowledge the work that HBFA does in partnership with training providers and employers to facilitate this. With serious constraints on our labour supply set to continue into the future, the attraction retention and development of people in the industry has never been so important.

The apple season is now underway, and the main topic remains access to labour, particularly as we prepare to hit our peak over the next few weeks. The impact of the government policy settings is now becoming more evident. The NZAPI team is managing the return of the 2,000 RSE workers approved under a special border exception. At the time of publishing this newsletter eight flights will have landed in New Zealand, and workers on the first four flights will have cleared quarantine. A change in government policy over Christmas has made it less likely that the few working holiday visa holders that remain in New Zealand will choose to work in our regions. And, it is increasingly clear that, despite the government narrative, there are just not enough kiwis available through the MSD system to make any tangible inroads to our labour shortage. NZAPI and employers are continuing to use whatever avenues are available to find workers, but the deficit remains large and the situation serious. I attended a presentation by the Minister of Economic and Regional Economic Development, Hon. Stuart Nash, where he was lauding the work that the government has done to support the regions, and yet we have such a serious situation emerging in his own region (and other regions across the country) that he appears oblivious to.

As I write this, New Zealand has been plunged back into Alert level 3 for Auckland and Alert level 2 for the rest of the country. This shows just how fragile our situation is and how our reliance on a safe border is just as much good luck as good management. Unlike the last Auckland lock down, the southern border has been set at Mercer and Waikato River. Workers involved in freight, food and drink production, processing and supply are permitted to cross as is freight, but businesses must register individual employees on the MBIE website.

For level 2, the rules are as follows:

  1. One metre social distancing in work places; 2m in public spaces and retail. Must wear a mask if social distancing isn’t possible.
  2. Businesses must display a QR code or an alternative method of recording a visit
  3. Must scan QR code or sign in when accessing a business or other space
  4. You can’t travel to a region with a higher alert level i.e. to Auckland
  5. Full hygiene practices (hand washing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow). Regularly disinfect shared surfaces
  6. Masks on all public transport and planes
  7. No more than 100 people at any one event or gathering
  8. Staff feeling unwell should stay home and isolate; those staff most at risk should stay home


Note: Businesses should be prepared for an increase in Alert levels. All businesses should refamiliarise themselves with the requirements that were put in place under the Alert level 4 lockdown in March last year, and be prepared to implement these again at short notice.

Thinking about what lies ahead in 2021 for HBFA and the Hawke’s Bay fruit growing community, one thing that I am certain of is that there will be change.

John F Kennedy put it nicely, “There is nothing more certain and unchanging than uncertainty and change.”  In the February edition of the Orchardist magazine, both Barry O’Neil (President, HortNZ) and Mike Chapman (CEO, HorticultureNZ) describe what they believe will be the key challenges for Horticulture in 2021 and in the decade ahead.  Mike Chapman comments that “last years’ challenges and those we face currently are forcing us to change how we operate as an industry at all levels”.  I couldn’t agree more.

For our Hawkes Bay industry, the implications of Covid-19 will continue to force change upon us, but we also need to be considering what other changes are required to ensure the future viability and vitality of our industry. Covid has further highlighted the importance of a secure labour supply, but this is a challenge we have faced for many years.  We must be thinking about what change is required to make fruit growing, packing and marketing even more attractive career options for young people and other job seekers.  In addition to a local workforce, the RSE scheme will remain a critical component of our labour supply for years to come and HBFA will continue to support our product groups and HorticultureNZ in their work to protect the programme. Being proactive and adopting new ‘softer’ chemistry and growing techniques will require change in the way we do things and will also help us attract the next generation of talent, especially the Gen-Z workforce.

For HBFA, 2020 bought plenty of change as the Executive team worked hard to implement a new strategic plan.  Further changes are planned for 2021, all with the common objective of meeting the needs of our members (current and future) and the wider industry.  If you are passionate about our industry and want make a positive difference, think about joining our HBFA Executive team.  Please make contact to find out more and see what’s involved.

Happy harvesting and I hope all growers are able to get the pickers they need. Remember to look out for your fellow growers and pursue opportunities to make best use of the limited labour available this season.

Richard Pentreath
HBFA President 

Jens Liesebach,  KGI Lower North Island Representative

Several regions have been impacted by hail this season, causing significant damage to crops. The Motueka region severely affected in December with kiwifruit, apple, berry and hops orchards all showing significant signs of damage- some as much as 80-100 percent loss of crop. About 2.2 million trays of Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit and 300,000 trays of Zespri Green Kiwifruit were lost- and a long road to recovery for these orchards.

Zespri held a Red19 Fielday last week at their showcase orchard in Tauranga to hear from subject matter experts. This was an opportunity to see the red variety pre-harvest and share learnings prior to the upcoming licence tender round in April 2021.  Zespri is also offering the opportunity to view the variety in other growing regions (Edgecumbe, Opotiki, Waikato, Auckland, Northland, Gisborne and Motueka) and to hear from local growers on the trial experience.

Zespri have announced that from the 2020 season, the final season progress payment will be moved from 31 May to the end of the first full week of June as approved by the Industry Supply Group (ISG). For the 2020 season, this will mean that the final payment date will occur on 4 June, 2021. A change will be made to the 2021 Supply Agreement to reflect this timing.

The Zespri pre-harvest team will be running informative forums mid-February focusing on the GAP strategic review, pest monitoring and the China protocol and their aims for the future, residues, and contractors on 26 February at 9:30am at the War Memorial Centre, Napier.

The Zespri Grower Roadshow is on 3 March at 9am at the Crown Hotel, Napier.
See you there.

Richard Mills, Summerfruit NZ Market Support

Last month I commented on the warm and dry conditions, in which case nothing has changed on that front apart from being hot and dry. We seem to have got through most of the stonefruit harvest thanks to the students being available, but of course that is now changing. Main crop peach and nectarine harvest will finish in Hawke’s Bay soon and we will then be selling stored product for another couple of weeks. Plum harvest will go for at least another month.

Fruit size in part has not always been what was expected and on reflection this may have something to do with the spring temperatures around shuck fall and the dry conditions from mid-December onwards.

The quality of the fruit has been excellent as has been the quantity, perhaps too big for the prevailing market demand in New Zealand. There is lots of produce from all sectors available and has been the situation from about a week post New Year, the demand across all grocery lines is soft and spongy. Why this is the case, has been difficult to pinpoint, so I suppose we can blame Covid-19!

The total volume of fruit sold is likely to be up on this time last year, but we will wait a bit longer to get a more informed picture. A good part of that may well be due to Central Otago cherries being early, and early enough to make the New Zealand Christmas market. As I watch the trucks with apples start to roll into the pack houses, I hope that the overseas markets treat apples and then kiwifruit with better returns.

For the Summerfruit growers in Hawke’s Bay who have had a good season, spare a thought for our mates in Central Otago who have had one to forget; unhelpful weather,  a full New Zealand market and then for the reasonably significant gate sales trade, a lack of tourists passing through Central Otago. I was there a month ago and really appreciated the big country not being crammed with tourist buses. Jones’s fruit shop is always a delight to visit as you come into Cromwell from Queenstown and now you can actually move around in there.

Put aside some time for the Summerfruit NZ conference to be held in Napier on the 9th and 10th of June. The agenda is yet to be finalised and will be available on the Summerfruit NZ website in coming months. SummerGreen will be holding a seminar in May with the theme of exporting cherries from Hawke’s Bay. We look forward to hosting a range of technical and marketing speakers and welcome interest from potential exhibitors.

In the coming weeks and months we are participating in some carbon sequestering work, regenerative agriculture seminars and the A-Lighter-Touch initiative. It’s all longer term, slow-burning projects that will help inform us of government policy and back the other way- help us shape policy.

And back to the weather. Don’t forget your stonefruit trees post-harvest, I’m sure they would like a nice big long cool drink as much as we do.