Weathering the storm: Rebuilding an industry against the odds

Weathering the storm: Rebuilding an industry against the odds

Following one of New Zealand's most destructive natural disasters Cyclone Gabrielle last year, Kumura production took a heavy brunt of the damage, limiting production for many months.

Anthony Blundell runs Kaipara Kumara discusses the remarkable rebound of the kumara industry following the devastating effects of Cyclone Gabrielle. The cyclone had resulted in an industry downturn of 70%, but Blundell and his community's resilience has led to a promising 2023 harvest. 

Blundell provides insight into the aftermath of the cyclone, revealing the variation in crop loss among growers. Despite the financial hit, he maintains a positive outlook.

"We've been very fortunate that the growers that were able to harvest the crop did very well." 

He highlights the absence of long-term damage other than financial, noting that there was "enough harvest in 2023 to provide enough kumara to propagate this year's planting for the 2024 crop." 

Blundell's relationship with the supermarket chain Countdown is also underscored as a crucial support system during the recovery phase, with the company offering employment and grants to affected growers. 

The conversation also delves into the diversity of the Kumara, a sweet potato variety integral to New Zealand's food culture. Blundell explains that while the red and orange kumara are the mainstays of sales, other varieties like the golden and the purple-fleshed Purple Dawn also have their place. 

The orange kumara, introduced commercially in 1994 from Louisiana, has notably enhanced the industry's growth. 

"It's really had a real positive impact in growing kumara sales in New Zealand," says Blundell.

In discussing partnerships with food companies like Mr Chips and Proper Crisps, Blundell sheds light on how these relationships are affected by seasonal challenges. He shares that they supply Kumara for products such as fries and crisps, indicating a healthy supply chain despite last year's setbacks. 

The conversation concludes with Blundell expressing gratitude for being able to share positive developments.

"Thank you very much, Dom, for the opportunity to have some real positive news about Kumara after the disaster last year." 

Through the episode, the unyielding spirit of the New Zealand kumara growers shines through, offering a narrative of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Listen to the full chat between Anthony Blundell and Dominic George above.

To check out more episodes listen to the REX Podcast anytime on your favourite streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and Rova or tune in to REX Mornings live on Magic from 5 am to 6 am every weekday.

Visit the Rural Exchange Facebook or Instagram page for more information and regular updates from the REX team.