As 2021 was a tough year for lemons, Alan Thompson of Kainui Pack & Cool in Kerikeri is hoping for an improvement this season as the harvest gets underway. Kainui has 26 hectares of Yen Ben lemons, with most of these being new plantings, under three years old.
Still, Alan and Helen Thompson are not new to lemon growing. They have been involved with horticulture in Kerikeri since the 1980s and have an extensive family business that includes kiwifruit and lemon production, a packhouse and coolstore, an export company, and more recently wine and beer production.
“While SunGold kiwifruit is our main production focus across 70 hectares of orchards, Yen Ben lemons have always been a particular passion of mine since commercialising the variety in the 1990s,” says Thompson.
Yen Ben lemons have several fruit sets a year, and these require select picks each time. Thompson: “This makes them more expensive to produce than a single pick crop like kiwifruit. Seventy to seventy-five percent of the Yen Ben crop is harvested from mid-June to September with an export pack-out of 80 to 90 percent, and then a later harvest from November to early February, so they’re producing almost year-round with fruit setting at the same time as harvest. This makes crop management like spray programs more complicated, and it increases our labor demand.”