Despite congestion at its ports and the impacts of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) restrictions in China, Zespri expects to deliver New Zealand-grown kiwifruit on schedule to China by early-April.
“While there has been congestion at container ports, we have been advised that our key terminal for early season ship arrivals is running normally,” Blair Hamill, Zespri chief global supply officer, told Coast & Country News mid-March.
“While Shanghai and Tianjin are our two main entry ports for containers in China, we’ll bypass this congestion by the use of our own chartered reefer ships into a different terminal not suffering congestion. The southern port of Yantian, which takes smaller volumes of our containers, is working normally and we will ship containers in there.”
Worldwide, refrigerated containers have been in short supply because many were not being unloaded due to the restrictions placed on workers in efforts to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, but Blair says Zespri shipments should not be affected.
“While this is a dynamic situation, we have a good supply of empty containers in New Zealand at present. At this stage, we do not foresee any issues in loading containers to our container ships,” says Blair.
Zespri and New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc are also monitoring the rapidly changing Covid-19 (Coronavirus) situation onshore and adopting a precautionary approach.
The focus remains the health and welfare of people and a range of processes have been established to manage this year’s harvest and fruit going to market. The Ministry for Primary Industries has published guidance on Covid-19 and food safety on its website, which is updated regularly. The advice enforces the need for food producers to follow good personal hygiene practices.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc CEO Nikki Johnson says this year there are some potential hurdles around dry weather, coronavirus and seasonal labour availability. “As the kiwifruit is packed, we will start to have a clearer picture of the impact of this year’s hot and dry weather which may be influential,” says Nikki.
In addition to dry weather, this season also has an emphasis on being well prepared for potential disruption from Covid-19. “As we are working with a food crop, the industry already has strong processes in place around food safety and personal hygiene and these will continue to be important. “The industry is working together to plan and mitigate disruption and will be following public health recommendations,” says Nikki.
Based on the forecast volume and spread of the harvest season, it is currently forecast that about 20,000 workers will be required throughout the harvest period.
However, Nikki says it will become clearer if there are sufficient workers as the industry gets closer to the peak of harvest and the requirement for significantly more seasonal workers increases.
NZKGI has taken proactive steps to mitigate the likely labour risk and will be communicating on the steps, which will be taken in coming weeks. In addition, NZKGI has been in conversations with forestry organisations to ascertain if there is the ability to provide opportunities to forestry employees while there is a lull in wood exports.
The 2020 harvest began in March with fruit picked from Gisborne and Bay of Plenty orchards – the first of what is expected to be a very large crop of around 155 million trays of green and gold kiwifruit picked and packed across New Zealand from Northland to Motueka. This year’s crop is forecast to be well up from the 147 million trays exported in 2019.
And Zespri kiwifruit could be in even more demand in China this year as consumers look to the healthy fruit to help improve their health and immunity in the face of Covid-19.
“Kiwifruit is obviously a very healthy product and rich in Vitamin C. We know in the past with something like SARS – the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome of the early-2000s – there was an increase in demand for fresh fruit and we’re hearing similar things from the markets again,” says Blair.
The new Zespri Red Kiwifruit will also be picked as a commercial variety this season. The sweet, berry-tinged tasting kiwifruit will be destined for markets in Japan and Singapore as well as NZ supermarket shelves.
Zespri chief grower and alliances officer Dave Courtney says Zespri is expecting another great-tasting crop with “more SunGold than Green kiwifruit”. “And of course we’ll be bringing an increasing amount of Zespri Red Kiwifruit to market following last year’s limited release.
“We’re also excited to introduce our new brand to consumers and progressively roll this out to markets across the year,” says Dave.
The importance of NZ’s kiwifruit industry is represented through its contribution to local economies, contributing $1.82 billion to our kiwifruit-growing regions in 2018.