Unearthing the Roots of Bay of Plenty's Kiwifruit Legacy

  • 19 min reading time

For many people around the world, the word "kiwifruit" brings to mind a small, brown, fuzzy fruit with bright green flesh and a tangy flavour. But for those who live in Bay of Plenty, kiwifruit is much more than a snack or a garnish. It's a way of life, an industry, and a source of pride. Bay of Plenty is the heartland of New Zealand's kiwifruit industry, accounting for most of the country's production and earning millions of dollars in export revenue each year. But how did this come to be? What is the history behind Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit legacy? In this article, we'll explore the roots of this iconic fruit and the people and events that shaped its journey from obscurity to global superstar. From the early pioneers who saw the potential of this strange new crop, to the challenges and triumphs of modern-day farming, we'll take a deep dive into the fascinating story of Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit industry. So join us as we unearth the secrets of this beloved fruit and discover the rich history behind its success.

The Early Days: Tracing the Origins of Kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty

The story of kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty began in the early 20th century, when a schoolteacher named Isabel Fraser returned to New Zealand from China with some unusual seeds. Fraser had been teaching in China and became fascinated by a local fruit called yang tao, which she thought might have potential as a new crop in her home country. She brought back some seeds and gave them to a local nurseryman named Alexander Allison, who grew them into plants. The resulting fruit was small and unremarkable, but Allison saw something in it that intrigued him. He began experimenting with different varieties, crossbreeding plants and selecting the ones that showed the most promise. Over time, he developed a larger, sweeter fruit that he called the "Chinese gooseberry" (a name that would eventually be replaced by "kiwifruit"). Allison wasn't the only one working on kiwifruit at this time. Another nurseryman named Hayward Wright was also experimenting with different varieties, and in the 1930s he produced a fruit that was even larger and more flavourful than Allison's. This variety, known as the Hayward kiwifruit, would go on to become the most widely grown cultivar in the world. Despite the promise of these new fruits, kiwifruit remained a niche crop in New Zealand for many years. It wasn't until the 1950s and 60s that farmers in Bay of Plenty began to take notice of the potential of this strange new fruit. They saw an opportunity to diversify their crops and find a new source of income, and they began planting kiwifruit in earnest. At first, the industry was small and fragmented. There was no standardisation in the way kiwifruit was grown or marketed, and farmers had to rely on local markets or sell their fruit door-to-door. But as the industry grew, so did the need for organisation and coordination.

Pioneers of the Kiwifruit Industry: The Visionaries Who Took a Chance

As the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty began to take off in the 1960s, a handful of visionaries emerged who saw the potential of this new crop and worked tirelessly to promote and develop it. These pioneers faced many challenges and obstacles, but their dedication and perseverance laid the foundation for the thriving industry we know today. One of the most important figures in the early days of kiwifruit was a man named Jim McMillan. McMillan was a farmer in Te Puke, a small town in Bay of Plenty that would soon become known as the "kiwifruit capital of the world". In the early 1960s, McMillan began experimenting with different varieties of kiwifruit and studying the best ways to grow and market them. He became an advocate for the fruit, travelling around New Zealand and abroad to promote it and encourage other farmers to plant it. Another key player in the early kiwifruit industry was a man named Bruce Campbell. Campbell was a horticulturalist who worked for the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. He saw the potential of kiwifruit as an export crop and worked to develop new varieties and improve farming practices to make the fruit more competitive in the global market. Together, McMillan and Campbell helped to establish the New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board in 1977, which was tasked with promoting and regulating the kiwifruit industry. The board set standards for fruit quality and marketing, and worked to establish New Zealand as a leading supplier of high-quality kiwifruit to markets around the world. Other pioneers of the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty included farmers like Bob Blakeway and Peter Owens, who experimented with new varieties and farming techniques, and scientists like Bernie Porteous and Murray Gazzard, who conducted research on the genetics and physiology of the fruit. These individuals and many others played a critical role in shaping the kiwifruit industry and building the foundation for its continued success. Despite the challenges and uncertainties they faced, these pioneers were driven by a shared passion for kiwifruit and a belief in its potential as a crop. Their dedication and hard work laid the groundwork for a thriving industry that has brought prosperity and pride to Bay of Plenty and New Zealand as a whole.

The Role of Maori in Bay of Plenty's Kiwifruit Story

While the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty has largely been driven by Pakeha (non-Maori) farmers and researchers, the story of kiwifruit in this region is also deeply connected to Maori culture and history. Maori have lived in Bay of Plenty for hundreds of years and have a long tradition of cultivating and utilising plants for food and medicine. The introduction of kiwifruit to this region was therefore a continuation of this tradition, albeit with a new and exotic crop. Maori have played an important role in the development and success of the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty. Many Maori-owned orchards have been established in the region, providing employment and income for local communities. Maori have also been involved in research and innovation, with scientists like Dr. Riri Ellis and Dr. Maui Hudson making important contributions to the study of kiwifruit genetics and plant breeding. In addition to these economic and scientific contributions, Maori culture has also shaped the way kiwifruit is grown and marketed in Bay of Plenty. For example, some Maori orchards use sustainable and organic farming practices, which prioritise the health of the land and the well-being of workers over maximising profits. Maori also place a strong emphasis on relationship-building and community involvement, which has led to the development of innovative marketing strategies that highlight the cultural significance of kiwifruit and its connection to the land and people of Bay of Plenty. One of the most notable examples of Maori involvement in the kiwifruit industry is the Te Awanui Huka Pak partnership. This partnership was formed in 2011 between Te Awanui Huka Pak, a Maori-owned kiwifruit company, and Zespri, the world's largest kiwifruit exporter. The partnership has been successful in increasing the production and export of kiwifruit from Bay of Plenty, while also providing economic benefits and opportunities for Maori communities. The story of kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty is not just a story of Pakeha innovation and entrepreneurship, but also of Maori ingenuity and cultural values. Maori have made important contributions to the success of the kiwifruit industry in this region, and their involvement and perspectives continue to shape the future of this important crop.

Changing Fortunes: How Kiwifruit Transformed Bay of Plenty's Agriculture

Before the introduction of kiwifruit to Bay of Plenty, the region's agriculture was dominated by pastoral farming, with sheep and cattle grazing on large tracts of land. While this type of farming was profitable, it also had a number of drawbacks. For one, it was dependent on weather conditions and fluctuations in global markets, making it difficult for farmers to plan and invest for the long term. It also had negative environmental impacts, such as soil erosion and water pollution. The introduction of kiwifruit to Bay of Plenty in the 1960s and 1970s brought about a dramatic shift in the region's agriculture. Farmers began to convert their land from pasture to orchards, planting kiwifruit trees in large numbers. This change was initially met with skepticism by some farmers and industry experts, who questioned whether kiwifruit could be grown successfully in Bay of Plenty's climate and whether there would be a market for it. However, the farmers who took a chance on kiwifruit were rewarded with success. Kiwifruit proved to be well-suited to Bay of Plenty's climate and soil conditions, and demand for the fruit grew rapidly both domestically and internationally. By the 1980s, Bay of Plenty had become the largest kiwifruit-producing region in the world, with thousands of hectares of land devoted to kiwifruit orchards. The shift to kiwifruit also had important environmental benefits. Unlike pastoral farming, which required heavy use of chemicals and fertilisers, kiwifruit orchards could be grown using more sustainable and organic farming practices. This led to improvements in soil quality and reduced water pollution, as well as increased biodiversity as orchards provided habitat for wildlife. The transformation of Bay of Plenty's agriculture through the growth of the kiwifruit industry has had a profound impact on the region's economy and identity. Kiwifruit has become a major export crop, with billions of dollars in revenue generated each year. The success of the industry has also led to the development of a range of supporting businesses and industries, such as packing and processing facilities, transport and logistics, and marketing and promotion. The growth of the kiwifruit industry has transformed Bay of Plenty's agriculture, bringing economic prosperity and environmental benefits to the region. It is a testament to the vision and hard work of the pioneers of the industry, as well as the farmers and workers who continue to cultivate and care for the land and the fruit.

Kiwifruit Goes Global: The Growth of Bay of Plenty's Export Market

From its humble beginnings as an experimental crop in the 1960s, kiwifruit has grown to become one of New Zealand's most successful and valuable export crops, with Bay of Plenty at the forefront of this growth. The global demand for kiwifruit began to increase in the 1980s, fueled by its unique taste, nutritional benefits, and distinctive appearance. Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit industry quickly capitalised on this trend, expanding its production and developing new varieties to meet the needs of different markets. One of the key drivers of the growth of Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit export market has been the establishment of strong relationships with overseas buyers and importers. These relationships have been built over many years, with growers and exporters working closely with their overseas partners to understand their needs and preferences and to develop customised products and packaging. Another factor contributing to the success of Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit export market has been the industry's focus on quality and consistency. Kiwifruit from Bay of Plenty is renowned for its high quality and uniformity, which is achieved through rigorous quality control processes and strict adherence to industry standards. Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit export market has also benefited from the development of new technologies and logistics systems, which have made it easier and more cost-effective to transport kiwifruit to overseas markets. Improved packaging and storage systems, as well as advances in transportation, have helped to ensure that kiwifruit arrives at its destination in peak condition, ready for sale and consumption. Today, Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit is exported to over 50 countries around the world, including key markets in Asia, Europe, and North America. The industry has become a major contributor to the New Zealand economy, generating billions of dollars in revenue each year and providing thousands of jobs in the region.

Challenges and Triumphs: Navigating the Ups and Downs of Kiwifruit Farming

Kiwifruit farming in Bay of Plenty has come a long way since its early days, but it has not been without its challenges. The industry has had to navigate a range of factors that have impacted the success of individual farms and the industry as a whole. One of the biggest challenges faced by kiwifruit farmers in Bay of Plenty has been weather-related. The region is prone to heavy rainfall, which can damage crops and disrupt harvests. In recent years, extreme weather events, such as the severe storms that hit the region in 2017, have caused significant damage to kiwifruit orchards, leading to crop losses and reduced yields. Another challenge for kiwifruit farmers in Bay of Plenty has been the threat of pests and diseases. The industry has been proactive in implementing measures to prevent the spread of pests and diseases, such as the vine-killing disease PSA, but outbreaks still occur from time to time, and farmers must remain vigilant to protect their crops. Despite these challenges, the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty has been remarkably resilient, with farmers and industry leaders working together to find innovative solutions and adapt to changing circumstances. For example, in response to the threat of PSA, the industry developed new varieties of kiwifruit that are resistant to the disease, helping to ensure the long-term viability of the industry. Kiwifruit farmers in Bay of Plenty have also had to contend with changing market conditions, including fluctuations in demand and price. This has required them to be flexible and responsive, adjusting their production and marketing strategies as needed to stay competitive. Despite these challenges, the triumphs of kiwifruit farming in Bay of Plenty are many. The industry has experienced significant growth over the past few decades, with exports of kiwifruit from New Zealand reaching record highs in recent years. This growth has been driven by a combination of factors, including the industry's focus on quality and consistency, its development of new varieties and technologies, and its ability to establish strong relationships with overseas buyers and importers. For individual farmers, the rewards of kiwifruit farming can be substantial, with successful farms generating significant revenue and providing employment for workers in the region. And for the industry as a whole, the triumphs of kiwifruit farming in Bay of Plenty are a testament to the perseverance, innovation, and hard work of the farmers, exporters, and industry leaders who have made it possible.

Sustainable Practices: Bay of Plenty's Commitment to Environmental Stewardship

Sustainability is a key concern for the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty, and farmers in the region have long been committed to implementing practices that are environmentally responsible and economically viable. This commitment to sustainability is driven by a recognition that the long-term success of the industry depends on maintaining the health and vitality of the region's natural resources. One area of focus for sustainability in the kiwifruit industry is the management of water resources. Kiwifruit is a water-intensive crop, and farmers in Bay of Plenty have implemented a range of strategies to minimise water use and reduce the impact of irrigation on local waterways. These strategies include the use of water-efficient irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation, and the implementation of water monitoring programs to ensure that water use is optimised and wastage is minimised. Another key area of sustainability in the kiwifruit industry is the management of waste and byproducts. Farmers in Bay of Plenty have implemented programs to compost orchard waste, such as prunings and fallen fruit, and to recycle plastic and other materials used in orchard operations. These programs not only reduce waste and improve environmental outcomes, but also provide opportunities for farmers to generate additional revenue through the sale of compost and other byproducts. The kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty has also been at the forefront of efforts to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Through the adoption of integrated pest management (IPM) practices, which rely on a range of techniques to control pests and diseases, farmers have been able to reduce their reliance on synthetic chemicals and minimise the environmental impact of orchard operations. In addition to these practices, the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty has also made significant investments in research and development aimed at improving the sustainability of orchard operations. This includes the development of new kiwifruit varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases, the use of biological control agents to manage pests, and the implementation of precision agriculture technologies to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste.

Beyond Kiwifruit: Diversification in Bay of Plenty's Agriculture Sector

While the kiwifruit industry has been a key driver of economic growth in Bay of Plenty, the region's agricultural sector is by no means limited to this single crop. In recent years, farmers in Bay of Plenty have increasingly turned to diversification as a strategy for maintaining long-term economic viability and reducing risk. One area of diversification in Bay of Plenty's agriculture sector has been the development of new fruit crops. In addition to kiwifruit, farmers in the region now grow a range of other fruits, including avocados, citrus, and berries. These crops not only provide opportunities for diversification, but also offer a means of extending the growing season and reducing reliance on a single crop. Another area of diversification has been the development of new value-added products. In addition to fresh fruit, farmers in Bay of Plenty are now producing a range of processed products, including jams, jellies, and juices. These products not only provide new revenue streams, but also help to reduce waste and make use of fruit that might otherwise be discarded. The diversification of Bay of Plenty's agricultural sector is a testament to the region's entrepreneurial spirit and its commitment to innovation and adaptation. By continuing to explore new crops, markets, and production methods, farmers in Bay of Plenty are ensuring that the region's agricultural sector will remain vibrant and resilient in the face of changing economic and environmental conditions.

The Future of Kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty: Innovations and Opportunities

As the world's demand for kiwifruit continues to grow, farmers and researchers in Bay of Plenty are exploring new ways to improve production and expand the global market for this popular fruit. One area of innovation is in the development of new kiwifruit varieties. Through careful breeding and selection, researchers have created new cultivars that offer improved disease resistance, longer shelf life, and better flavour profiles. These new varieties not only provide opportunities for increased production and profitability, but also help to ensure the sustainability of the industry by reducing reliance on a single variety. Another area of innovation is in the use of new technologies and farming practices. For example, farmers are increasingly turning to precision agriculture techniques to improve crop yields and reduce inputs. These technologies, which include the use of drones, sensors, and data analytics, can help farmers to better monitor crop health and optimise irrigation and fertilisation practices. Finally, the global market for kiwifruit continues to offer new opportunities for growth and expansion. In particular, demand for high-quality, sustainably grown kiwifruit is on the rise in markets around the world. By continuing to focus on sustainable production methods and developing new marketing strategies, farmers in Bay of Plenty can capitalise on these trends and continue to grow the kiwifruit industry for years to come. The future of kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty looks bright. Through continued innovation and a commitment to sustainability and quality, farmers and researchers in the region are poised to build on the success of the past and chart a course for continued growth and profitability in the years ahead.


The history of kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty is a story of perseverance, vision, and innovation. From its humble beginnings as a little-known crop to its current status as a global powerhouse, the kiwifruit industry has transformed the region's economy and put Bay of Plenty on the map as a centre of agricultural excellence. But the success of the kiwifruit industry is not just a story of individual achievement. It is also a story of collaboration and community, with growers, researchers, and industry leaders working together to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. Looking to the future, Bay of Plenty's agriculture sector is poised for continued growth and diversification, with new crops, technologies, and markets offering opportunities for innovation and profitability. As we move forward, it is essential that we remain committed to the values that have made the kiwifruit industry a success: a commitment to sustainability, quality, and innovation. By doing so, we can ensure that Bay of Plenty's agricultural legacy will continue to thrive for generations to come.

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