The first gold kiwifruit shipment is on the way to Japan ahead of schedule and almost two weeks earlier than last year.
The shipment of 140,000 trays from Gisborne will arrive in Kobe on 6 April.
Growers have also started picking the first of the mainstream green kiwifruit variety and the first shipments to China and Europe will begin arriving in mid April.
Kiwifruit marketer Zespri chief executive Lain Jager says there is a marketing advantage in an earlier start to the season.
Mr Jager says about 25,000 people, mostly seasonal workers, will be employed to pick, pack and ship the kiwifruit crop.
He says the industry will be using fewer Pacific workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme than last season, because more unemployed local people are available.