Friday, February 23, 2024

RubyRed kicks off season’s harvest

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The inaugural commercial harvest of Zespri’s new RubyRed variety signals the start of what may prove to be a record-setting crop for the year.
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Zespri chief executive Daniel Mathieson (right) and orchard owner Gopa Bains look over the first commercial Zespri RubyRed harvest near Te Puke.

The inaugural commercial harvest of Zespri’s new RubyRed variety signals the start of what may prove to be a record-setting crop for the year.

Initial estimates are 190 million trays will be harvested this year, up from last year’s record 177m.

The harvest of RubyRed for markets in Singapore, Japan and China marks the culmination of over a decade’s work finding a suitable coloured hybrid variety and will be followed by early harvest SunGold crop next month.

Zespri grower, industry and sustainability officer Carol Ward said expectations were the RubyRed would remain near last year’s relatively small 250,000 tray harvest, given the youth of plantings and time needed for plants to reach full cropping potential.

In they meantime, she said the industry was anticipating about 115m SunGold trays this season from a crop that had enjoyed a relatively good growing season overall.

Some isolated weather events have impacted districts in past months, including a severe wind event in the Opotiki district last October that resulted in some heavy losses for growers in localised areas, with some losing between 50% and 90% of crop.

NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated chief executive Colin Bond said recent heavy rain through the Bay of Plenty is likely to have a mixed impact on final kiwifruit sizes, while the heavy winds in the wake of ex Tropical Cyclone Dovi has caused pockets of wind damage in some orchards, thanks to shelterbelts blowing apart or trees falling on canopies.

“There may also be some wind rub effect, but this takes a few days to become evident,” Bond said.

In the Western Bay of Plenty, avocados have taken a greater hit, with significant losses due to fruit being left on trees while growers waited for prices to lift.

Aside from the Opotiki event, he said this season had been a good growing season, with a better spring and good levels of rainfall eventuating.

He said growers are also nervously eyeing their staffing resources as crops ripen, as they once again try to fill the 6500-person gap left by absent backpackers.

“We will be maintaining our local recruitment campaign and calling on growers to reach out to their own networks of friends and family to help,” he said.

“When you break it down, if we are about 6000 short, we have 3000 growers, so if each grower can get one or two people on board, we are there.”

Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) staff from the Pacific Islands are still on track to keep arriving in New Zealand, despite some disruption caused by the Tongan eruption, with a target of 14,400 staff expected nationally. Normally about 2000 of them work in kiwifruit harvesting.

“I can honestly say there has been a lot of good work between industry and government, a lot of behind the scenes work with reports that this is the best level of cooperation we have seen between industry and government officials,” he said.

In the meantime, growers are being urged to register as critical businesses and to ensure they are down for the close contact exemption scheme they are eligible for. 

The scheme means workers who are vaccinated and asymptomatic close contacts of a case will be able to continue to work, as long as a negative rapid antigen test is returned prior to starting work.

“This is our third season working with covid now, we know our protocols can work and are confident we can get through this one too,” he said.

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