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Hawke’s Bay orchardist forced to leave six blocks of apples on trees as picker shortage reaches crisis point

A Hawke’s Bay orchardist has lost 40 per cent of his gala apple crop this year as this year’s picker shortage reaches crisis levels.

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Businesses want to see an increase of foreign workers from island nations amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Source: 1 NEWS

Small orchardist and exporter, Bruce Mitchell, whose family has been orcharding for over five decades, left six blocks of royal gala apples on the trees because he couldn’t get anyone to harvest them.

“It’s so devastating to see the best gala apples I’ve grown just rot on the ground because we didn’t have anyone to pick them. I was desperate and did everything I could to find people to harvest the apples, but on the day, we started, I was expecting 20 pickers and only two people turned up so we physically couldn’t pick 40 per cent of the gala crop.”

It comes as exporters, growers, food companies and industry leaders make a desperate plea to Government for a plan to allow Pacific Island seasonal workers to return later this year, according to a statement from long-time orchard company, Bostock Brothers.

At a media conference in Hawke’s Bay, they called on the Government and Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi to implement a plan that would allow more Pacific Island workers into the country to avoid the devastating impact which is happening now.

Mitchell is among hundreds of small to large orchardists and exporters who have either left export quality fruit on the trees or have compromised quality as the fruit hasn’t been picked at the optimal time.

The apple industry alone is already predicting losses upwards of $600 million to provincial economies, as the national crop forecasts are 14 per cent down on 2020.

“We can’t continue to spend money on keeping our business alive without a guarantee of labour in the future. It’s just not possible,” Mitchell said.