“This package significantly boosts funding and resources to support affected growers and their staff.”

A New Zealand Apples and Pears (Nzap) forecast released on Friday showed the export share of the national crop will be 19.3 million cartons, 3 million cartons fewer than last year, because there was not enough labour to pick the fruit. This would result in a $95 million to $100m fall in export earnings.

Some growers think the prediction is “optimistic”.

Stuff

Indeed it is, as you will see.  Right now a lot of the crop is not exportable simply because it has been on the tree too long. Given that an apple can cool store for close to a year, the real damage won’t be seen for perhaps 8-10 months. If an apple is overripe, its chances of spoiling in postharvest storage are significantly increased.

Nzap chief executive Alan Pollard said the funding would build on work already being done to boost training and development to help growers attract, recruit and retain staff.

“Many of our members are under considerable stress, and we all need to look out for each other. This comprehensive package of workshops, training and events will greatly assist with that,” he said.

The support package is part of a raft of measures being funded to help address labour challenges across the horticulture sector.

That assumes there are orchardists that survive. As stated before, even the Government was not successful. But I have a simple solution. Open a Pacific Bubble and allow in workers from COVID free Pacific Countries.

O’Connor said there was a big focus on connecting people looking for work with roles that needed to be filled, noting a campaign he launched last year aimed at attracting 10,000 kiwis into food and fibre jobs over the following four years had attracted 3121 so far.

That is commendable, but food and fibre jobs are not like orchard work which is more physically demanding. That is why locals don’t want to do it. Although the area that may have success is packhouse work, and firstly the day shifts. Interestingly, orchard work is well suited to pacific islanders.

ACT primary industries spokesman Mark Cameron and immigration spokesman James McDowall said the relief package was a slap in the face for the sector, which needed workers, not workshops.

Horticulture and viticulture growers faced losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Cameron said.

“To get this pitiful news in a week when it’s become clear that Hawke’s Bay is short of thousands of workers and estimates its apple losses alone will run to between $100 and $200 million this year is just sickening.

That is not the full cost.

“The Government doesn’t seem to understand the lifecycle of plants, having rationalised that a sector that had ‘had it good’ for a number of years could suck up one rotten harvest.

“But winter pruning is just around the corner and a substandard job along with too few workers will impact next year’s harvest too,” Cameron said.

Ah! Someone who understands horticulture. The apple you buy from the supermarket today was planned a year ago. Firstly the fruit has to come off the trees. If it stays on, it drains reserves and that impacts the following season. Then pruning, to ensure a good fruit set the next, and a novice pruner can damage the fruiting spurs. Then comes the flowering in spring and with that, thinning the bunches. There are entire blocks in Hawke’s Bay that have damaged fruit because of lazy locals not taking care of the 10-cent sized apples when thinning. 

McDowell noted that Pacific Island nations economies’ would also suffer, as the reduction in workers from the usual 15,000 down to just 2000 this year would mean less money going back into their economies.

This is an area that Ardern has failed badly. Pre COVID, she went around the pacific throwing millions like breadcrumbs in her trail. For countries such as Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga, the RSE remittances account for a significant proportion of GDP with tourism ranked number one. Vanuatu for example has RSE remittances taking second place. Fiji less so, because it has fewer workers and a much more diversified export portfolio.

The Government should have expanded the MIQ facilities to accommodate the Pacific Island workers, he said.

As it is, the Registered Seasonal Employers had to cough up the MIQ fee themselves to bring in those 2,000 workers. This is unsustainable and certainly impossible for small orchardists. So MIQ spaces are not the answer. But Cameron redeems himself…

“The Government must open a quarantine free passage with Australia and increase the numbers of Pacific Island workers who can travel here so this critical sector of the New Zealand economy can flourish,” he said.

There is no reason why not. So why open an Australia bubble and not a Pacific one?  Because tourism. The NZ Government gets a better trade balance with Australia than with the pacific islands. It’s all about the money and ironically less about wellbeing.

So will an open bubble right now help with the current season and upcoming pruning?  Short answer – No.

To be continued…

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Labour Can Take Full Credit for This Disaster: Part Two
The BFD Staff

The BFD Staff

A contribution from The BFD staff.