Labour shortage could spoil apple season

A bumper crop of Hawke's Bay apples is being harvested early this year but there are fears a labour shortage could spoil things - leaving thousands of apples unpicked.

A spokeswoman for Bostock said the company was usually behind conventional packing but this year was 10 days ahead of schedule since they started the harvest.

"We have a good quality product at present, it's going to be a bumper season. We should be picking 1400 bins a day but we are picking only 1200 and that's purely because of the labour shortage.

"There is a definite labour shortage, it's just not around. We are purely driven by Mother Nature. We have a great crop, there is no question we have a great crop, we just hope we can get it all off.

"There are 200 bins a day we can't get off the trees."

A spokesman for Scales, which owns Mr Apple brand orchards in Hawke's Bay, agreed that there was a shortage of workers but their operation had not been affected.

"Harvest labour availability is tight and we could do with some more but it is manageable at this stage. The industry is growing so there will be a need for growth in available labour pools going forward."

Scales Corporation yesterday released its annual results showing the apple season last year was comparative to the record season experienced in 2016.

"Apple picking for the FY2018 crop has recently begun, slightly ahead of normal harvest times. In spite of the wet weather experienced by the region, early indications are positive", chairman Tim Goodacre said.

NZ Apples and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard said there was a very good crop in Hawke's Bay but labour was always an issue.

"The crop is actually looking very good and it's early as well, which obviously puts pressure on labour. But we've been lucky, we have missed a number of the weather events around the country and the cooler weather has hit us at just the right time to finish the fruit off.

"The challenge is labour, at the moment we are getting through okay and we are encouraging people to register if they want to pick some fruit for the season. We're obviously trying to maximise the use of locals as much as we can but it is a challenge."

Mr pollard said the local fruit was bigger than usual and of "outstanding quality" around the region.

"Last year we had three cyclones come through, this year that hasn't happened, and this year, as you go around the region, the trees are very full. Quite a lot has come off already, but in all cases the quality is outstanding."

Tukituki National MP Lawrence Yule said it is going to be a critical problem for Hawke's Bay, not just this year but going forward.

He added that as the number of trees being planted increased, the level of production naturally increases.

"The Government has recently increased the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme) workers but this is one of the reasons why the National Party is absolutely so critical of some of the immigration policies because in a place like Hawke's Bay, we are now starting to get significant negatives from a lack of labour."

Mr Yule said orchardists were looking for skilled labour that works hard and brings their crops in on time.

"In my view the Government needs to be way more liberal with RSE workers. Some of the long-term unemployed issues are not going to be resolved around temporary work around the fruit picking season."

Napier Labour MP Stuart Nash said it was absolutely fantastic there is a bumper crop but they needed to get labour to pick these apples.

"I would support an expansion of RSE workers but first and foremost we have got to take a look at those who are unemployed in Hawke's Bay and see what we can do to get them job ready and fit and out there into the workforce."

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