Horticulture industry worried fruit will rot despite loosening of restrictions on seasonal workers

The thinning of the apple trees is underway, but it's the slimmed down workforce that's got growers worried.

Your playlist will load after this ad

The Government is also offering incentives for New Zealanders to take up seasonal picking jobs. Source: 1 NEWS

Paul Paynter from Yummy knows some fruit will be left to rot.

“There is no way we are going to be able to get the harvest done,” he told 1 NEWS.

The Government's allowing 2000 pickers into the country from mid January.

At its summer peak the industry needs 11,000 workers - John Bostock from Bostock Organics believes it won't be enough to solve the labour shortage.

“We are still going to be grossly short, it’s not only a question of picking the fruit, it’s about picking the fruit at the exact right time.”

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi says the industry will need to be flexible wiith man power stretched in orchards and vineyards nationwide.

“That's going to be one of the conditions that we are able to move workers around different parts of the country to harvest different types of fruit when they are coming up for harvest.”

The difficult task of deciding who will get how many will be left to the industry.

“It's a very difficult challenge figuring out how you distribute labour. We are all going to be screaming there is no doubt about that,” Paynter says

Faafoi says they’ll have to use what is already in the country too.

“There are already 6000 workers who are here from the previous season and of course we are trying to make sure they are offering the best possible deal for the New Zealanders to try and do that work over that harvest.”

The workers cost an extra $6000 to bring in, including costs for flights, managed isolation and wages while they're there.

“We have to wear it, we have to harvest our crops,” Bostock says

Richard Bibby from Thornhill Contracting who distributes workers out to growers across Hawke’s Bay says it’s a no brainer.

“We’ve got to ... we’ve got clients out there that the squash won’t get picked, the peaches won’t get picked and the apples won’t get picked so to us.”

The numbers are constrained by the country's quarantine hotels capacity.

Orchardists from regions across the country are still pushing to set up isolation facilities themselves in accommodation already used by seasonal pickers.

But Faafoi says that’s not an option at the moment.

“They certainly asked that but one of the constraints there is being able to staff it. What happens if something was to go wrong with a case there.”

Where the pickers come from is yet to be decided.

With billions of dollars on trees and vines, the help can't come soon enough.