Northland Kumara growers are hoping they will rebound from a dismal season as planting for new-season crops gets underway.
Following Cyclone Gabrielle in February over 70 per cent of the about-to-be-harvested kumara crop was either destroyed or wasn’t good enough quality to be stored for very long.
Ruawai kumara grower Warwick Simpson says the poor yield has a flow-on effect as five per cent of each grower’s crop is used for seed the following season.
However, the Vegetables New Zealand director says there is hope for growers thanks to a Kumara Seed Contingency scheme funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to ensure growers will have at least 77 per cent of the required seed for this planting season.
“There are some growers that weren’t able to harvest enough to cover all the seed need,” Simpson says.
“[MPI] provided just under $270,000 to provide funding for those growers that weren’t able to harvest enough seed so that they can buy seed off other growers so they can get going in this coming season.”
Simpson says he would typically use five per cent of his crop to go into seed, however, thanks to weather events which led to rot in the kumara, he was only able to harvest 10 per cent of his usual crop.
“You can see how the numbers are getting smaller and smaller.”
Kaipara district, where Simpson is based, is the heart of kumara growing in New Zealand. There are about 40 growers in the area that grow most of the country’s kumara.
Simpson said the implications of a poor season move through every part of the sector. To understand how it all happened, Simpson casts his mind back to November last year.
“During that planting season, it was very wet and really limited to how much we could plant. So that was putting us on bad foot to start with.
He says a lot of growers were down 80 per cent at that point.
And then Cyclone Gabrielle happened.
“That was when we were just looking at starting to harvest. And, for example, the crops on my farm here were flooded for about five days. And you can imagine that causes a lot of rot and crop loss,” Simpson said.
While some growers came off better than those who lost their whole crop, Simpson says all growers were affected.
“It’s certainly led to some good conversations with the bank to get things through for the season.
“We use the income from the previous season to pay for the next season, and a lot of us lost that income so [we’re] having to go to the bank to get money to put this next season’s crop in.”
As a result, kumara in-store has risen in price and a local packhouse is considering closing the doors in October as they don’t have the stock to work with, Simpson says.
Countdown Supermarket has helped find work for packhouse workers who were also without work as a result, he says.
Simpson has kumara growing in the blood. His father, who is now in his eighties, was also a grower.
He says this past season was the worst not only him, but his father had ever seen.
“The best way to support is if you can afford to buy kumara then please do.
“And then certainly when we get into the next season when the price will come down, definitely support your growers and buy local kumara – keep eating it.”