Kiwifruit (huakiwi) growers are being urged to vote on the future of their grower body as the sector faces its six-yearly referendum on keeping New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated.
NZKGI chief executive Colin Bond said the sector is facing some tough challenges over coming months, with Cyclone Gabrielle impacts still being assessed, assorted other weather damage across the country, quality issues and labour shortages all coming into play.
Zespri has been grappling with quality issues from last year’s crop and has launched a wholesale review of its quality processes, from orchard to export, and Bond said growers are largely happy with how that process is playing out.
However, the more recent announcement that the single desk seller had underestimated the level of crop write-down due to quality issues on its last two shipments of the season drew some pointed criticism from the grower group.
In an open letter to the Zespri board NZKGI chair Mark Mayston challenged Zespri’s supply chain transparency, grower communications and forecasting ability. He said that general grower confidence in the single desk seller is being dented and said growers have “deep concern” about the additional write-down of 58c per tray for Green fruit that left growers without a February progress payment.
It was a departure from the organisation’s usual softly-softly approach when dealing with industry issues, and Bond said such comments were not made lightly.
“As an advocacy organisation it is important growers know we hear their sentiment and that was what that letter was about. There was a problem with the forecast that had a real impact upon growers.”
But he said it is unusual for Zespri to make such slips, and noted Zespri’s executives had owned the mistake publicly.
After this season’s weather impacts and last year’s quality challenges, Bond said the sector is in for some tough months ahead, coming after nearly a decade of good, solid returns and strong growth post-Psa.
“This has just been a reminder of the risk horticulture does face, and that it is not always all plain sailing.”
Other key issues NZKGI intends to advocate strongly on include the continuation of the use of Hi-Cane budding spray, a controversial treatment that is currently being reviewed through the Environmental Protection Authority.
In the previous referendum, 49% of growers voted.
That compares to a 57% turnout for DairyNZ levy payers in 2020, and 35% for Beef + Lamb in 2021.
NZKGI is proposing to keep the 1.1c a tray levy charge unchanged, with the option to increase it to 1.5c a tray if required in the future. Voting closes on March 24.