The New Zealand kiwifruit harvest is commencing today at produce company, Seeka. It has just completed its Nashi and Packham pear harvests in Australia and avocado and kiwiberry harvests in New Zealand.
2018 has seen unsettled weather in New Zealand already with ex-tropical cyclone Gita having impacted in New Zealand's South Island and it was feared that the remnants of tropical cyclone Hola may have hit the Te Puke area on Monday, but the storm drifted to the east of the country. MetService said it would bring a short spell of wind, rain and larger swells, with possible severe weather in places. Now there is a new Cyclone Linda brewing in the Coral Sea in New Caledonia.
Michael Franks said that Seeka are ready to go with the new kiwifruit harvest. "We are at the end of a very good kiwiberry harvest, and having completed Seeka’s most successful avocado season ever. In the kiwiberry space around 1605 bins have been processed across Seeka’s new kiwiberry processing plant – a converted cherry grader. The machine has commissioned well, and provided Seeka and its growers with 5 times the capacity to pack. Its delivered a significantly better risk profile for our growers, particularly with the unsettled weather pattern. This is well up on last year’s approximate 1297 bins processed at Seeka. The first kiwifruit are now ready for harvest. The weather during the kiwifruit growing season has been very unsettled with less than ideal amounts of sunshine punctuated with heavy rain. The result is a very large size profile. Dry matters are comparatively low and we are closely monitoring the fruit to get it harvested when the criteria is achieved."
Last year Hayward [green] yields were low with big sizes, this season's yields are expected to be more normal and Seeka are expecting to pack between 29 million and 30 million trays, compared to last year's 25.5 million.
Seeka is currently recruiting for the season but there doesn't seem to be the usual numbers of backpackers registering as in previous years. This is a new phenomenon in New Zealand and in the Hawkes Bay, the apple packers are at crisis levels. "The labour situation is always a bit confused at this time of the year," according to Franks. "People sign up to three or four packhouses in the region and will go to the place that starts packing first, so it is hard to get a handle on the overall situation right now. The numbers seem ok but we are unsure about how it will pan out. Seeka does have innovative programs underway with Government departments to encourage out of region New Zealanders to work at Seeka including subsidised transport and specialist training. We also have our overseas workforces coming in
which we use to complement the local kiwi workers."
Seeka have two packhouses with Near-Infrared technology in the lines which scans fruit to measure dry matter levels. The gold kiwifruit must reach a certain threshold to be classed as Zespri class I fruit for export. The technology tries to segregate the specific sized fruit to ensure that the dry matter levels are sufficient to meet customer's demands. Once packed the fruit is rechecked to ensure it is at the level.
"Its tricky technology to employ, and as the fruit matures and the harvest continues the cameras and technology needs recalibrated. It is time consuming at a time when we are very busy. It is not possible to take the machine down for a whole day for recalibration. The whole process is expensive to the point where its economic benefits are marginal, but we do it because the market and growers expect it of us," said Franks.
"We anticipate a better crop volumes this season, up 4.5million trays on last year. Hayward will be better so we are expecting around 18 million conventional and organic trays and also a lift in the Sungold fruit, but we are conscious that it does have lower dry matter," stated Franks.
Meanwhile at Seeka Australia the financial performance last year was up significantly, mainly due to a very good kiwifruit harvest, but according to Franks, there is still room to improve. The focus in on production to get all varieties performing at their optimum. Last year the Nashi volume was down but they are predicting a bumper crop this year across all varieties. Seeka Australia has experienced unprecedented export demand for its kiwifruit. The orchards, while in a difficult growing environment, produce fruit of excellent taste and quality. The combination of high temperatures, high sunlight hours and strict quality standards has delivered an excellent kiwifruit, according to Franks. Export volumes are expected to surge by 60% with Seeka continuing to market through its dedicated European customers.
Seeka continues to invest; it is developing 60 hectares of new kiwifruit orchards as well as new pear varieties. The company has deployed new high-brix high yielding pears focused on its key Australian customers. These new exciting pears are intended to meet growing market demand and replace commodity pears.