The king of his pumpkin patch

Peirce Orchard owner Darryl Peirce relaxes on a bin of pumpkins harvested on his farm in Millers...
Peirce Orchard owner Darryl Peirce relaxes on a bin of pumpkins harvested on his farm in Millers Flat. PHOTOS: SHAWN MACVINUE
The self-proclaimed "pumpkin king" of Central Otago has finished harvesting more than 80 tonnes after battling aphids, drought, hail and rabbits.

Peirce Orchard owner Darryl Peirce, of Millers Flat, harvested about 80 tonnes of crown prince hybrid pumpkins on his 4ha patch.

The season hit some "rough patches" but ended up "pretty good".

"We got smashed with hail on Christmas Day and got annihilated by aphids and then we got drought and now I’m trying to beat the rabbits — there has been a lot of adversity but pumpkins are quite resilient and it’s ended up a good crop," he said.

The 200 bins harvested would be sold at his shop on State Highway 8.

More than 100 bins of crown prince hybrid pumpkins lie in a paddock in Millers Flat.
More than 100 bins of crown prince hybrid pumpkins lie in a paddock in Millers Flat.
"Hence this is the pumpkin place and hence, I am the pumpkin king."

The pumpkins were harvested with a crew including his children and their friends.

"Mainly my children’s friends — none of my children turned up," he said, laughing.

Finding staff was becoming more difficult for smaller growers. Workers were being targeted by apple growers, because fewer staff were available under the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme from Pacific Island countries.

"So I just put the pressure on my kids and their mates to work — and boy can they fill some bins in a hurry."

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman, of Wellington, said the biggest issue facing the vegetable growing industry in this country was finding permanent and seasonal staff.

The industry relied on backpackers and RSE workers to bridge a labour shortfall but numbers had plummeted because of Covid border restrictions "and that is causing us problems".

Horticulture New Zealand had programmes designed to attract new staff to the industry.

"We are doing everything we can to find people and make their employment as good as it can be but you can’t find people where there are no people."

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