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Avocado thieves feed booming black market

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 16/06/2016

New Zealand's avocado orchards are being raided to feed a booming black market in the high-end fruit, after prices more than doubled.

Thieves armed with head torches and rakes are carrying out raids in the dead of night and then selling the high-priced fruit at roadside stalls or on the quiet to retailers and food outlets, news reports and police said.

Avocados are fetching an all-time high of up to $6 per piece this year, around 2.5 times more than in May 2015, according to Stuff website, after a poor harvest and a surge in local demand for the gourmet fruit.

A dozen orchards have been raided in the Bay of Plenty area on the east coast of the North Island, some in broad daylight, police said.

"They are taking them off the trees, and putting them in anything they can, duvets or sheets, and then just placing them in the back of their vehicles," Tauranga Police Detective Bryan Dudley said.

Some raids appeared opportunistic, with thieves using rakes to pull low-hanging fruit off the trees, which can reach 4 to 8 metres, said Jen Scoular, the head of growers' association New Zealand Avocado.

Experts warned that it was not picking season yet, and buyers would end up with unripe produce.

Farmers have been installing buzzer alarms and sensor lights on their driveways, as well as CCTV cameras and electric fences.

Fruit raids on orchards are a frequent problem in the area, including at local kiwifruit orchards, Dudley said.

"Once the prices come down it will be less attractive for them to steal," he said.

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