Soaring NZ vegetable prices and the faltering economy have led to a rise in thefts which are costing growers tens of thousands of dollars each year.
Broccoli, cabbages, water melons, avocados and apples are among produce being stolen from farms and community gardens.
Leaderbrand Produce estimates that much of the produce stolen from their 3000 hectares of vegetables, ends up in flea markets.
Operations manager Stuart Davis said the company had been forced to step up its security patrols and patrol flea markets for signs of the culprits in a bid to stop thieves.
"Apart from our own workers patrolling the crops and watching out for suspicious behaviour, that's all we can do. If we paid for security patrols, we would go broke."
Last month, a Gisborne market gardening family woke to find their fields stripped of about $2000 of kumara.
It was the latest in a spate of thefts in the Gisborne area, where sheep have been rustled and avocados picked in bulk from trees.
Thieves have also been raiding community gardens, with much produce being dug up in recent weeks.
Strickland St Community Gardens manager Christine Blance said she had seen people in nice cars drive away with vegetables, plants and pots.
"Obviously, you feel annoyed, disappointed and frustrated and some volunteers gardeners feel a lot more than that."
200 kilograms of potatoes and 50 leeks had been stolen overnight from the garden and possibly sold, Blance said.
In the past five years, organised large-scale thefts have included a Hawke's Bay orchardist, who lost about 15 per cent of his apple crop in just two nights.
Woodhaven Gardens director Emma Du Fresne, said "we would lose maybe $4000 worth of watermelon a year. People just drive in in cars and trucks at night and help themselves."
"We try to move the most popular produce closer to base, but people are just so determined to take stuff."
"It is pure and blatant theft as they lean over fences and grab dinner for the night, but what can we really do?"
Police said they were working closely with growers when thefts happened and beefing up patrols, particularly during harvest times, to protect growers' livelihoods.
Horticulture NZ, spokeswoman Leigh Catley said "I think as an industry we would really be too scared to know exactly what we are losing in dollar terms."
"It is just a matter of staying alert but the reality is, stuff is going to be nicked and that loss is something that just has to be carried by a business."
Source: �Tanya Katterns - The Dominion Post, 17 April 2010�