21 Feb 2023

Risk of E coli contamination at some kiwifruit farms after Cyclone Gabrielle

3:30 pm on 21 February 2023
Kiwifruit is a popular fruit to grow in Tairāwhiti.

File image Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

A kiwifruit industry leader was left shattered after flying over kiwifruit orchards in Gisborne and Hawke's Bay and viewing properties damaged by Cyclone Gabrielle.

New Zealand Kiwifruit growers chair Mark Mayston said he met growers in both regions and it is hard to grasp what they are going through.

About 70 hectares of Gisborne's 381 hectares of kiwifruit vines were severely compromised, he said, and alot of Hawkes Bay's 212 hectares could be written off for this harvest season.

He didn't want to limit options for growers, and said the industry would pick everything it can, but believed in many cases flood waters would have contaminated the fruit.

"I am gobsmacked. I am really struggling with just how bad this is for these guys. This is a real disaster... I'm just not sure people really understand just how bad it is for these people. These people have nothing left.

"I think as a grower, you realise, your deepest sympathy goes out to these guys that have just been dealt a very, very bad blow. And in some cases it's recoverable, in other places I'm not sure it is recoverable."

The risk of E coli contamination was great so they were working through what could be done, and what fruit has to be left, he said.

"But I think you can understand why I don't want to sort of preempt too much because of course, we don't want to take options away from them. We want to make sure that we explore options to be able to harvest fruit in a safe way to relieve some of that pressure from growers," he said.

Mayyston said the variation between properties in the Gisborne area was also startling with one side of the road lightly touched by silt, and the other side of the road a metre deep.

In Hawke's Bay damage was region wide he said, with some growers still unable to access their orchards to assess damage.

In both regions vines will start dying because there has been a long wet period already, he said.

"Somebody said to me the other day they hadn't worked a five day week since March '22. That gives an indication of how wet it has been over the past 12 months.

"So we are seeing plant deaths in the industry anyway because of how much rain and water has been sitting.

"Plants are starting to yellow off, this just puts them under extreme stress. Some plants won't recover, it will be re-establishment."

Zespri directors and NZKGI chief executive and chair were visiting both regions on Tuesday to hold meetings to discuss growers' options and work out a strategy for recovery and harvest.

Alerts from the National Emergency Management Agency

  • Keep up to date with advice from your local CDEM Group or from civildefence.govt.nz
  • Floodwaters may be full of sewage, chemicals and other hazardous materials and should be avoided as much as possible
  • Floodwater can carry bacteria that can contaminate food
  • Protect yourself when cleaning up flood water and mud by wearing a properly fitted P2- or N95-rated mask, goggles, gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and gumboots or work shoes
  • Throw away all food and drinking water that has come in contact with floodwater
  • Do not eat garden produce if the soil has been flooded
  • In power outages use torches instead of candles, and only use camp cookers and BBQs outdoors.
  • Conserve water where you are advised to
  • Check the location of pipes and cables before you dig; see Chorus' Before You Dig website and beforeudig.co.nz for all utilities
  • The best way to assist in the response is through financial donations and NOT through donated goods.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs