Here at Fresh, we are absolutely AOK with picking up fallen, abandoned fruit – loving free feijoas at the moment. But brazen thefts are costing NZ fruit and vegetable growers tens of thousands of dollars.

Brazen thefts are costing fruit and vegetable growers tens of thousands of dollars each year. Broccoli, cabbages, water melons, avocados and apples are among produce being stolen from commercial growers’ orchards and gardens.

Grower and packing firm Leaderbrand Produce, of Gisborne, estimated thousands of dollars of produce stolen from its 3000 hectares of harvested vegetables each year ends up in flea markets. Operations manager Stuart Davis said the company had been forced to step up its security patrols and patrol flea markets for signs of the culprits in a bid to stop thieves.

“Apart from our own workers jumping in their cars and patrolling the crops and watching out for suspicious behaviour, that’s all we can do. If we paid for security patrols, we would go broke.” Last month, a Gisborne market gardening family woke to find their growing area at Matewhero stripped of about $2000 of kumara.

It was the latest in a spate of thefts in the Gisborne area, where sheep have been rustled and avocados picked in bulk from trees. Thieves have also been raiding community gardens, with produce being dug up in recent weeks from allotments in Blenheim.

In the past five years, more organised large-scale thefts have included a hit on Hawke’s Bay orchardist Peter Keogh, who lost about 15 per cent of his apple crop in just two nights. A Levin produce grower, Woodhaven Gardens director Emma Du Fresne, said it was impossible to determine the extent of thefts. “We would lose maybe $4000 worth of watermelon a year. People just drive in in cars and trucks at night and help themselves. “We try to move the most popular produce closer to base, but people are just so determined to take stuff. “It is pure and blatant theft as they lean over fences and grab dinner for the night, but what can we really do?”

Police said they were working closely with growers when thefts happened, and beefing up patrols, particularly during harvest times, to protect growers’ livelihoods.

Horticulture NZ, which represents 7000 commercial fruit and vegetable growers, urged its members to stay vigilant and protect their patch as best they could, spokeswoman Leigh Catley said.

“I think as an industry we would really be too scared to know exactly what we are losing in dollar terms.

“It is just a matter of staying alert but the reality is, stuff is going to be nicked and that loss is something that just has to be carried by a business.”

 
~ stuff.co.nz

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