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Shane Jones hits back at apple growers who say they can’t find enough workers

Singing can be heard across Hawke's Bay's orchards as the picking season gets into full swing.

But there are concerns from growers that the chorus might fall flat.

Paul Paynter from Yummy Fruit Group doesn’t believe they’ll be able to pick all of their valuable apple crop this year due to falling labour numbers.

"I don't think we are going to cope. We are forecasting to be really short of labour this year," he told 1 NEWS.

The apple industry is expecting an extra 30,000 tonnes of fruit to come off the tree this year, and that's going to require an extra 500 workers in Hawke's Bay alone.

That combined with low unemployment has the industry crying out for a labour shortage declaration for the second year in a row.

The declaration would allow tourists to work without the usual permits, to avoid wasting millions of dollars’ worth of fruit.

Alan Pollard from Apple and Pear NZ says it’s not just about the money lost.

"The other one is the potential loss of reputation. The market expects our fruit on time and at a high quality. And if we can’t deliver then it affects our reputation internationally," he said.

But Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is "unimpressed" with horticulture investors.

"This is not exclusively a government problem. If you are going to put your money at risk and you haven’t given a lot of thought or come up with a plan for human capital then you can’t howly bag to the government every time financial capital outstrips human capital," he said.

Mr Jones told 1 NEWS the industry needs to innovate and look at better working conditions. 

But growers on the ground say they are doing all they can.

"We are working towards automation and greater labour efficiency in the field. But it takes tens of years to change orchard configuration to work with robots that aren't quite here yet." Mr Paynter said.

Alan Pollard says the Government needs to take a longer-term view on the labour issue.

"At the moment our businesses have to negotiate every year for the labour they need, and yet they are planning their investments over a three to five year period. So we would like to see a more strategic long term view taken," he said.

The industry will be meeting with the Social Development Ministry to try find any more workers they can in the little time that’s left.

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    The Regional Economic Development Minister says the industry needs to take more responsibility. Source: 1 NEWS