March 17, 2021

Kiwifruit leading the charge for horticulture

Future growth not guaranteed

The emergence of Gold3 kiwifruit after the Psa disease opened the door for kiwifruit exports to double in value. There have been multiple years of rapid growth, but will this last?

New Zealand’s kiwifruit exports have seen substantial growth over the past decade. Kiwifruit accounts for 33 percent of all horticulture exports, which have now grown to be of the same value as our meat exports. This is the largest share held by an individual horticulture export.

Kiwifruit exports have seen a percentage growth of 176 percent from 2010 to 2020.

In 2010 kiwifruit exports were valued at just under $1billion, they have since grown to be valued at just over $2.5billion in 2020. These results play a big part in the rise of New Zealand’s horticulture exports equalling our meat exports.

New Zealand predominantly exports gold and green kiwifruit. In 2010, 66 percent of our kiwifruit exports were green kiwifruit while 33 percent was gold kiwifruit. Since then we have seen a complete reversal, with gold kiwifruit now being responsible for 66 percent of all kiwifruit exports and green only holding the 33 percent.

This is in line with gold kiwifruit exports quadrupling in annual value over the recent decade. Although the market share of green kiwifruit has been cut in half by gold kiwifruit, it still experienced growth of 40 percent from 2010 to 2020. The rapid rise of gold kiwifruit is due to the introduction of Gold3 kiwifruit, which was produced after the Psa disease caused extreme damage for the kiwifruit market from late 2010. Gold3 kiwifruit’s resistance to Psa allowed the market for gold kiwifruit to flourish and grow rapidly from 2013.

New Zealand’s biggest markets for kiwifruit are the European Union, Japan and China. These three are responsible for over 70 percent of our exports. Exports to the European Union and Japan, have doubled over the past decade. More impressively, kiwifruit exports to China have grown by 728 percent since 2010. However, China has begun growing their own gold kiwifruit, which may not only affect our exports to them, but may reduce the positive annual growth in kiwifruit exports we have experienced with other countries as well.

Increased competition may lead to a decrease in prices and a decrease in export value, even if the kiwifruit growing volumes remain the same.

The Bay of Plenty region is the largest growing area for kiwifruit in New Zealand, with 81 percent of all kiwifruit being grown there. In 2020, kiwifruit employment tallied 4,350 Full Time Equivalent (FTE), with the Bay of Plenty region accounting for 70 percent of this. However, FTE’s had fallen from 4,766 in 2019, most likely as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown in New Zealand.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, there is a labour shortage with travel restrictions limiting the amount of backpackers and international students available for kiwifruit growing jobs. COVID-19 also affects the RSE Scheme, although these workers only make up 22 percent of kiwifruit pickers. The New Zealand Government has agreed to let in 2000 RSE workers but this sum is merely small in comparison to the 22,000 seasonal workers New Zealand Kiwifruit Growing Industry (NZKGI) are asking for. The volume of kiwifruit growth has been substantial, and there simply isn’t enough seasonal workers to handle it. NZKGI has offered the living wage to all workers in a final attempt to reduce the amount of lost crop, calling for any New Zealand citizen to contribute. But this only brings the issue of reduced productivity, as they simply are not as skilled in this field traditionally.

Investing in technology is appealing and with labour becoming more expensive, this idea is slowly getting more possible. Although with vaccines rolling out globally, and COVID-19 slowly being removed, the possibility of these seasonal workers entering New Zealand is becoming slowly more likely. With the previous positive growth the kiwifruit market has seen, it is likely they will still be set for a big year, even with the labour shortage.