Latest News

Orchard management saved hail-damaged kiwifruit crop
17 May 2015
Orchard management saved hail-damaged kiwifruit crop

Media Release

Orchard management saved hail-damaged kiwifruit crop.

TAURANGA, May  - A Tauranga kiwifruit orchard devastated by hail late last year saved almost all of its export crop as a result of the decision to allow the orchard to regenerate rather than cut and remove the damaged vines.

“I’m still in a state of shock as to how good the orchard looks and just can’t believe we got a crop off there at all, let alone the fantastic yield – it’s just amazing,” said Kevin Haua, chairman of Mangatawa Papamoa Blocks Inc., a Maori incorporation which owns the orchard.

“Some other growers decided to cut back and sacrifice the crop, but we took advice from our orchard manager and Seeka Kiwifruit Industries’ client managers. Conventional thinking was to cut the fruiting canopy out and focus on growing next year’s crop. We decided against this and we are delighted with the outcome.”

The hail strike in November last year cut a narrow, but devastating swathe through Tauranga’s Welcome Bay area. The major impact of the hail was in a catchment in the Mangatawa/Welcome Bay Road/Kairua Road region, which mostly affected Seeka growers. NZX-listed Seeka is New Zealand’s biggest kiwifruit grower, with both leased and managed orchards, and is also a major post-harvest operator for its own and other growers’ fruit. It has a significant Maori ownership, with 16 per cent owned collectively by local Maori trusts and incorporations.

About 35 hectares of orchards that supply Seeka suffered significant damage, with another 50-to-75 hectares that were less affected.

The Mangatawa Papamoa Blocks orchard had 22 hectares of Hayward Green and 0.5 hectares of Sungold (G3) under cultivation, all of which was shredded.

“The hailstones were as big as golf balls and we were up to our knees in some places,” said Mr Haua. “It was total devastation. All the leaves were shredded as if someone had shot them with a shotgun and all I could think was, this is the end of our fruit.”

Mr Haua, Mangatawa operations manager Paula Werohia, Mangatawa Orchard Manager Steve Law, and Bryan Grafas, Seeka General Manager, Orchard Division, assessed the damage and discussed the options.

The pre-hail estimate for the hectarage was for 247,000 trays. After the hail, Seeka estimated there had been a loss of approximately 50,000 trays of flower buds. The insurance assessment was for a total write-off.  

“But although the canopy was badly shredded and there were flower buds all over the ground, we could see they were starting to open,” said Mr Law.

He estimated there were potentially 150,000-180,000 trays still hanging, and believed even if the orchard only managed to grow and harvest 150,000 trays, they would be better off than cutting back and starting again.

The owners were very supportive of Seeka’s recommendation to try and regenerate the original crop, said Mr Law. One key factor in the decision was the fact that the orchard was part of the Kiwistart programme of early maturing fruit going to market at the opening of the export season in early April, which tends to get better pricing.

“We were confident that if we could get a reasonable amount of trays and get it into Kiwistart we would be far better off financially than accepting the insurance claim,” said Mr Law. “We thought it was better to try and grow them back rather than cut it all back to the leader.”

The decision paid off above expectations, with the orchard eventually harvesting 217,000 trays –described by the owners as a stunning outcome and a stark contrast to those orchards which decided to cut out.

Mr Grafas said the result highlighted the need to consider all options and act promptly in the event of a natural disaster. After the hail, the vines still had a percentage of heathy flower buds left and the orchard manager believed once they started forming fruit, the canopy would regenerate, which was what happened.

“Steve had the wisdom to straight away take action and put fertiliser on and copper spray to protect the wounds from PSA and kick-start the recovery process,” sad Mr Grafas.

“We had a disaster on our hands, but in the end the orchardist got a wonderful result.”



Bryan Grafas:  Seeka General Manager, Orchard Division                0275-721-509

Steve Law:      Seeka Orchard Manager, Mangatawa Orchard          021-356-405

Kevin Haua:    Chairman, Papamoa Mangatawa Blocks Inc.             027-2707247

Seeka Key