Sunday, August 14, 2022

Fruit volumes sliced in harvest


Two of the country’s most significant horticultural crops have been caught out with lower than expected harvests, leaving the industry and growers short of millions in anticipated income.

The apple industry is entering the later stages of harvest with losses estimated at 10-12% and more than $100 million of fruit either rejected or still hanging on trees. 

And kiwifruit analysts are struggling to determine the cause of a 10% drop in the billion dollar-plus SunGold kiwifruit crop.

Pipfruit NZ chief executive Terry Meikle confirmed the 10-12% drop in the apple harvest from its pre-harvest estimate carried out in January.

He says this was due to a combination of factors including heavy rainfall events in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay mid-harvest, and from omicron establishing itself in NZ at the harvest outset.

Its arrival in the three main Pacific islands that Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) staff are sourced from a few weeks later has also impacted upon RSE availability. 

Hopes were for RSE numbers to reach 16,000 staff this year, but is estimated to be about 20% short on that, with the Tongan eruption making securing staff more problematic.

A lack of backpackers and international students on working holiday visas has also exacerbated the sector’s ability to ensure a timely harvest.

Meikle said the next challenge being faced was a logistics one with transport and shipping continuing to be complicated by a number of factors. 

This included China’s ongoing covid elimination strategy causing significant logjams on shipping routes and putting pressure on markets already scarce for container supply.

Further north in Bay of Plenty Seeka, the country’s largest grower and post-harvest processor, announced in an NZX update that the total NZ SunGold kiwifruit crop was expected to be 103.3 million trays, a drop of almost 10% on earlier forecast industry volumes, NZ wide. 

In announcing its financial summary for 2021-22, Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson confirmed this season’s crop has lower volumes that initially forecast. 

He said challenges remaining in the current season also include the impact of the pandemic of global shipping networks.

Seeka’s SunGold volume packed to date reflected the decline, with a total volume of 26 million trays. 

While its current year’s volume is ahead of the 17.9m packed in 2021 to date, the season’s total is behind the current year estimate for Seeka by 8.2%.

“In the case of SunGold it was only two months ago we were anticipating 115 million trays in total, now it is 103 million so yes, it is a surprise.”

Michael Franks

Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said it was not typical to have a drop over expected crop yield this late in the season.

“In the case of SunGold it was only two months ago we were anticipating 115m trays in total, now it is 103m so yes, it is a surprise.”

He said the industry had anticipated fruit size would improve through the season.

“We thought it was a good start to the season, we did have a wind event in Opotiki, but the rest of the season looked good too.”

Meantime all eyes were on the Hayward (Green) kiwifruit harvest, which was only one third complete. 

Estimates for Hayward at this stage have the crop down 4.7% to 65.1m trays, with the risk there would be a further reduction in volumes. 

To date Seeka has packed 5.6m trays of Hayward as it hits the main season Hayward harvest in coming days.

Franks said it had been a monumental effort by industry to get fruit harvested this year, given the shortages of overseas workers and the tight local labour supply.

“We will be happy to put the season behind us and look forward to next year,” he said.

Seeka has advised it is too early to provide a current year earnings guidance but expects to do so once the Hayward harvest and packing was complete.

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