Tom Chamberlain, T&G’s regional manager in Northland, says, “Mandarins were in stores at the beginning of April which is two weeks earlier than usual. We had generous rainfall in early summer followed by a warmer drier summer, and these conditions produced juicy, sweet, good-sized mandarins, with low acidity levels and great flavour.”
Northland is one of New Zealand’s largest mandarin growing regions. This year T&G will harvest over 80,000 crates of satsuma mandarins from the area with additional production from Auckland and Gisborne regions.
“Satsuma mandarins have grown in popularity over the past five years to the extent that they’re now the largest volume citrus crop in the country. We have reached a point now where satsuma supply is balanced with demand, which is a great outcome,” says Tom.
As with other horticulture sectors, labour has been an issue for the mandarin harvest. Tom explains, “Given current seasonal labour shortages, the challenge for us has been having enough hands to harvest the fruit. As an essential business, we’ve worked with many Northland employment agencies to provide opportunities to locals, alongside our seasonal workers, providing them with the required training on safe work practices. We were also grateful to have a group of women from the island of Kiribati here for the blueberry season, who decided to stay to help with our mandarin harvest, as our pickers weren’t able to travel from another Pacific Island to New Zealand.”
Seeka is the contract packer for T&G in Northland and Marty Hansen is the Northland regional manager for Seeka. “We’ve had a big volume year that’s gone at a good pace but we struggled to get labour because the mandarin crop coincided with the kiwifruit harvest this year,” Marty says. “We leaned on the Ministry of Social Development, advertised on social media, put physical signs out and offered incentive prizes to get people on board. These included daily and weekly cash prizes, prizes for consistent attendance, incentives for referring a friend, plus some random big ticket prizes like electric scooters and mountain bikes. The combo of initiatives worked and we finished the season well in mid-May.”
Bells Produce, based near Kaitaia, grows and packs 24 hectares of mostly satsuma mandarins which are marketed through both T&G and MG Marketing, plus their own retail shop in Kaitaia. Bells was bought by Te Rarawa a few years ago and the mandarin crop is part of their greater gate-to-plate horticulture operation.
Sari Masters is the newly appointed labour manager for Bells Produce Farm, and although mandarins are new for her, she has come to the position from a previous role managing a 100-hectare avocado orchard further north at Kaimaumau, so she is used to running a team.
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