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Lockdown -Take Three
Another blow to an already challenging summer
Is this the point in time it couldn’t get any harder for a large proportion of growers? Currently, New Zealand greenhouse tomato and cucumber growers are struggling with low returns, labour shortages and an increase in costs, which they have no control over. Combined with a reported reduction in exports and favourable weather conditions we have the ‘perfect storm’. In addition, unbelievably, this summer there may well be an increase of acreage of tomatoes, currently being harvested, and compared to this time last year. This may be due to early crop terminations because of the trouble that the first Covid-19 lockdown caused. Many small businesses, which did not have secure super market contracts during the first lockdown, faced huge financial losses at the time. As a result, some businesses terminated crops earlier than scheduled. If those businesses then re-planted tomatoes midway through last year then they are most likely still picking right now. In a ‘normal’ sequence some of those crops would have replanted in January-February with first harvest beginning in March-April.
The planting of new crops, and their rotation has massive supply implications, without having a crystal ball, the best possible time to supply the domestic market is simply an educated guess, even for the largest of growing operations. Autumn is on its way so hopefully the domestic market will stabilise but it could well be another season of treading water. (note) Unfortunately, due to laws growers are not allowed to discuss future planting/production plans. Even with industry collaboration it may not have avoided a domestic oversupply as is currently occurring but it may have helped!
Potentially, Lack of Exporting the Main Issue:
If there was going to be disruption to exporting tomatoes, due to the uncertainty of shipping by sea or the cost to air freight, then the bottle neck was always going to be now. Another question on my mind is how are our traditional international markets/buyers coping with all of the disruptions Covid-19 has caused. Are their barriers importing from their end? For now, until supply softens then the only winner will be the NZ consumer which is of little comfort to growers treading water. (also read last editions article news/post/weather-great/)
Spare a thought:
However, even though greenhouse vegetable growers face a ‘tricky’ few weeks, with another lockdown and poor returns, it would appear we are still faring better than our orchard cousins. I understand growers are working overtime to harvest crops before fruit is too ripe to pick. Labour shortages is an ongoing issue for the greenhouse industry but the opportunity of permanent employment gives greenhouse’s an advantage when trying to compete for the current limited staffing pool. And let’s face it we are all competing for a limited pool of workers at this point, and we all need our produce picked.
Kiwifruit harvesting is just around the corner and I will be watching closely how this significant industry player will fair in the coming months. I know our industry bodies will be doing everything within their powers to make sure it is a success but if the current situation, of fruit picker shortages, continues then until the last tray is picked, packed and shipped I will be holding my breath.
Last week I read, due to fruit rotting on the ground in Australian orchards, that a fruit fly outbreak could occur that could severely affect exporting to many international markets. Their loss may well be an opportunity for NZ to fill these markets. Click the link below to read the full article