Great mandarin season

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21 June 2022, NZ: A great growing season this year has resulted in an early mandarin crop with high yields and quality fruit.

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. 

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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.

Sari Masters recently joined Bells Produce as the new orchard labout manager

“We will have employed up to 70 locals here over this year’s six to eight-week mandarin harvest, with at least 40 picking each day in four teams of ten. We also have 12 in the packhouse plus two supervisors and we pride ourselves on employing locals.”

This has been assisted this mandarin season by Sari’s avocado connections.

“Far North Packers have a six-week downtime gap in their avocado season which coincides with our mandarin harvest, so we work together to enable them to have consistent work all year.

“I’ve worked with a lot of them before, so they understand my management style. We also have a regular team of 18 from Tupu, a Te Rarawa-led training and work initiative, and I seek out current staff whānau members if we require extra staff at any given time.”

Sari says the harvest has gone smoothly thanks to a run of fine weather.

“The fruit quality is good with very few pest and disease issues except for a small patch of wax scale. We haven’t been rained off as yet, so we have consistently picked and packed a truck and trailer load of mandarin crates each day. It is our own unit that leaves here each evening for marketing and distribution.”

T&G’s Tom Chamberlain says demand for satsuma mandarins is strong.

“As well as tasting good, they’re seedless and easy-peel so are a convenient snack food, plus they have high levels of vitamin C, minerals and antioxidants for health protection. Most of the new season fruit will be sold in New Zealand retail outlets, but some of T&G’s crop will also be exported to Japan over the coming months.”

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