Monday, March 4, 2024

Gabrielle’s touch continues to knock growers

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Some kiwifruit vines were wiped out in a matter of hours, but even some of those that appeared unscathed are manifesting problems.
Gary Davies on his kiwifruit orchard in Napier, New Zealand, Wednesday, 7 February 2024. Photo by John Cowpland / alphapix
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The water is well gone and much of the silt that came with it, but kiwifruit growers in Hawke’s Bay still have some hard yards ahead a year after Cyclone Gabrielle.

The region is far from being New Zealand’s largest kiwifruit growing area, accounting for just 135 hectares in 2022, but has been growing strongly from its small base thanks to good winter chill temperatures.

NZ Kiwifruit Growers board member Gary Davies said he is still witnessing the rolling effects of the floods, even in his own relatively small .75ha canopy Green orchard.

He estimates he lost a third of his vines after Gabrielle, but losses are continuing to manifest in some that had seemed to survive the initial flooding well. 

He said it remains hard to determine just how many more could be lost.

“We did not get hit by silt but did get a lot of water. We are all Bruno rootstock, and I have been finding it takes a while for the damage to come through.  

“In some vines it was well after fruit set before we saw what would happen. We have been finding on some the fruit has shrivelled up or not made it to size.”

There is evidence the newer Bounty rootstock has stood up better to the silt and water inundation, but work continues to determine the longer term impacts and options to shift rootstock type.

Gabrielle was a double whammy for Davies, also taking out about 20% of the hives in his honey business.

For some growers Gabrielle’s bruises run deep and will for some years yet. 

Davies has been working with one grower who was just about to have his first full Green harvest off his 5ha orchard, only to lose the lot to Gabrielle.

“But he is determined to get it back again and is starting from scratch. So he is looking at an orchard that will have taken 11 years to reach its full production.”

While he will benefit from the government loans made available, these will still ultimately have to be paid back.

Another grower Davies is working with is still 12 months away from reinstating posts, wires and irrigation to get his orchard back on track.

Silt deposits remain a real problem for the region, with hundreds of truckloads a day removed and more remaining.

However, Davies remains optimistic about kiwifruit’s place in Hawke’s Bay, seeing a number of unaffected growers continuing with their expansion plans.

Colin Bond, NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated CEO, said it is estimated around 80% of orchards in Hawke’s Bay were initially impacted to some extent, although the impact on vine health is still ongoing and so the full extent may not be known for some time yet.

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