Cyclone Gabrielle aftermath hits kiwifruit growers

Rural communities were hit hard during the cyclone.

The destructive claws of Cyclone Gabrielle are still hammering Te Tairāwhiti kiwifruit growers a year after the event.

Vines which looked healthy in early-summer are either completely collapsing, leaves are going yellow, or fruit is going soft and shrivelling on the vines.

The local NZ Kiwifruit Growers kiwifruit representative and orchard owner Tim Tietjen has put a conservative estimate of a $1 million cost to the Tairāwhiti region.

Twenty or so of the region’s 50 orchardists appear affected to some extent. The worst have lost everything; others were removing fruit prior to this month’s harvest to reduce vine stress, and per hectare tray production could be halved.

“So they’ve spent all the money, pruning, doing all the sprays, bees in for pollination, that sort of thing, and then the orchard’s just collapsed as the stress has come on. So yeah, a real hit,” says Tim.

He outlined the position for his business where 20 per cent of the orchard will need to be replanted, and a further 40 per cent will have about half the normal number of trays. “I will be down to about six or seven thousand trays (per hectare) so I will be trying to nurse them through.” At that production level his orchard will barely break even.

Tim says growers knew vine stress could take time to appear, but this is a massive surprise and right up until Christmas he was cautiously optimistic with good fruit numbers and vines looking healthy.

“But I came back from a short summer break and shocked at what I saw, how quickly things had gone south. Catching up with growers there’s a lot saying how they’re hating going out into the orchard at the moment. It's depressing looking at a whole lot of sick plants, small fruit that’s not going to get harvest. So there’s concern around mental health for growers and that sort of thing.”

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