Kiwifruit growers near moment of truth

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HARVEST NEARS: Jason Yuill will begin picking his three hectares of Hayward green by May.
Photo Mark Rieder D5072-3

WITH gold kiwifruit ready for picking any day and the harvest for green nearing, orchardists are about to discover if their hard work has borne fruit.

Te Teko orchardist Jason Yuill, who has three hectares of Hayward green along Macdonald Road, has been in the industry for seven years after a previous career in forestry.

He said this year’s crop was looking good and some growers might see an early harvest.

But some years it could be difficult to know when the fruit would reach peak maturity.

“It’s hard really because you don’t always know where you’re sitting,” he said.

He said some gold kiwifruit orchards were already checking the brix (sugar) levels of their crops in preparation for picking.

He said this was the time of year when kiwifruit growers, especially growers of gold varieties, liked to have cool nights to help bring the sugar content up.

“With gold, you’ll want to be seeing (cold weather) now,” he said.

As long as there were no heavy frosts, kiwifruit benefited from cold. He said a light frost was not always something to worry about at this stage.

Strong wind was of more concern because it caused fruit to rub against each other and become damaged.

With just over six years since Psa first hit, growers were better aware of what to look for and what to do if it was discovered on the vines, he said.

Mr Yuill said few orchardists became alarmed if Psa was found.

“It doesn’t panic me and most people have a handle on it,” he said.

He was quick to point out that it was the lifestyle that attracted him the most to the industry. It was hard work but it also allowed him to take time to enjoy the better things in life.

“It’s not for everybody. It might look good as you pass by but if you’re not an outdoors person then probably do something else,” he said.

In the three years since taking over the Macdonald Road orchard he had doubled production. As the orchard was not a high producer to begin with, just changing from a T-bar configuration to pagola dramatically increased output.

He said he wanted to continue ramping up production. He was happy to be hands-on in running the operation and being responsible for every aspect of the business for now, but eventually he wanted to have a more leisurely life.

He said it took an average of two days to harvest the three hectares, and that was without hiring large crews to take care of things.

“It cuts my costs right back and that’s what makes it viable for me,” he said.

He said he was in a good position as the orchard, owned by his step-father Russell Orr, was already established and had no debt to service.

He said the circumstances of individual orchardists were typically unique, which meant the level of effort they put into their businesses varied. “Some of them have other jobs because they can’t really afford to stay at home and work on the orchard,” he said.

Mr Yuill supplements his income by doing some contracting work with his tractor.

Zespri sold 131.6 million trays of kiwifruit in the 2015-16 season.