A Hastings couple who lease an orchard near Whakatu are at least $2000 out of pocket after what they describe as a couple of family groups had gone on to their property on fruit-stealing expeditions.
It is the second year in a row the couple had lost large amounts of white lady peaches from their orchard off Ruahapia Road, and they are convinced the culprits were not stealing the fruit just for themselves.
After the couples's son arrived at the property about 7.30 last night to drop off a ladder he spotted about a dozen people some way off in the orchard.
Among the adults were children, and they were seen carrying plastic bags.
The woman co-manager of the orchard, who did not want to be named, said the arrival of her son must have frightened the group off.
"They left in a hurry because we later found four empty plastic bags and a filled one that had been done up with a twist tie."
She said it appeared the thieves had been filling the 3kg bags for sale, possibly at a market.
Some trees had been completely stripped.
She also believed it may have been taking place over the past few nights, and while a vehicle had not been seen, it appeared a gate had been lifted off its hinges to gain entry to the normally locked-up property.
Last year the couple had also been the target of thieves, but figured it may have been a one-off incident and had not bothered to report it.
"But now it has happened again."
She believed other orchards in the area may have also attracted unwanted pickers over the past few weeks. "Growers are struggling enough as it is without having this happening."
This time the couple did report it to police, but they did not expect to see any of the fruit again.
However, she warned that people buying bagged fruit from unknown sources may well be buying stolen fruit.