The Wrap: The impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on fruit and vegetable growers

by | Feb 24, 2023 | News

The effect of Cyclone Gabrielle on North Island’s horticulture sector is still to be calculated but images of mud-covered orchards and buried machinery tell the story of devastation – and of hope.

Overall, the death toll stands at 11. Some 152 people are unaccounted for and 10,000 are displaced across Northland, Tairāwhiti and Hawkes Bay. More rain is expected today and tomorrow.

Horticulture seems to be especially affected. New Zealand Apples and Pears describes the impact as immense. “The damage to the pipfruit sector varies in severity across Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti. …It is obvious that in some areas growers have lost absolutely everything – their orchards, their infrastructure and their homes. They have nothing left.”

The impact  is emerging in snapshots:

  • Gisborne District Council estimates 250,000m3 of silt needs to be removed from residential areas, 200,000m3 from Te Karaka properties and 50,000m3 from riverside properties in Gisborne city
  • Yummy Fruit general manager Paul Paynter told Stuff 70% of his crop could still be harvested if the sunshine holds but some orchardists have lost everything. “As far as horticulture goes it’s sort of like the zombie apocalypse. Trees look like debris from the flood but they are actually attached to the ground, just unrecognisable.”
  • Paynter also told the NZ Herald that horticulture lands could take 50 to 100 years to fully recover from the silt and flood devastation
  • HortNZ chair Barry O’Neil told the Herald that silt creates multiple hazards: “They’ve got to remove silt from the base of trees or trees will suffocate through lack of oxygen for their root system.
  • “Harvesting of early varieties has started. You’ve got a situation where no machinery can get into orchards. The disruption is going to be significant.”




Hope and courage

There are also stories of hope and courage. This week, the Herald told the story of Bryon Nisbet’s silt-covered orchard in Puketapu being rescued by volunteers and family. The story is encouraging to other orchardists as it appears that clearing the silt allows the roots to ‘breathe’ and the trees to survive.

RSE workers were at the centre of some of the most incredible scenes as they clambered on roofs to escape the floodwaters. Hundreds were displaced and temporarily housed in churches, marae and in community facilities. Meanwhile some RSE workers were celebrated for their generous help in food banks and clean-ups.


Compacting events

Gabrielle comes on top of an already wet, poor season. O’Neil says he lost 70% of his kiwifruit crop in a severe frost in October. “It hasn’t seemed to have stopped raining in the Bay since November. I’ve been looking at the rain stats, last year we got something like 35ml in January, this year we’ve had 750mls in January.”

Every dollar made on an orchard is said to be worth four to the wider region, and horticultural leaders are calling for local and central government assistance.

“It’s not only apples, but the ground crops: the squash, the onions, maze. It’s all severely impacted and a lot of people… don’t actually realise how extreme it is,’’ Bostock New Zealand apple company owner John Bostock told the NZ Herald.

Meanwhile, the harvest continues, says Apple and Pears. “Other growing areas in the region have been less affected, and a number unaffected. These areas will continue to harvest and pack their fruit for export and local market over the coming weeks, with picking already underway for early maturing varieties.

“The challenge, however, will not end with the flood waters receding, there will be a major clean-up effort, and some logistical issues to navigate to get our remaining pipfruit crop picked and to market.”

This video shows some of the aftermath in Gisborne Tairāwhiti.



About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

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