Orchards will be ‘fighting for every spare staff member’

Clyde Orchards co-owner Kevin Paulin has found it difficult finding staff and says it won't get...
Clyde Orchards co-owner Kevin Paulin has found it difficult finding staff and says it won't get any easier. Photo: ODT files
Some Central Otago orchards and vineyards are facing a repeat of last year as they contend with staffing shortages as harvest looms.

During the peak season upwards of 5000 seasonal workers are needed in the region across both the horticulture and viticulture sectors, however Covid›19 and border closures continue to disrupt the movement of seasonal workers.

The supply of overseas backpackers remains cut off and there are an uncertain number of available recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers.

Clyde Orchards co›owner Kevin Paulin said they managed to get all their jobs done ahead of the harvest but it had been hard work.

"I have noticed around the district that there seems to be a few blocks that haven’t been totally pruned or thinned . . .there has been issues with labour right through the last 12 months.

"I mean it’s not going to get any easier. Once the harvest gets into full swing, that’s when the pressure is really going to come on."

However, a recruitment drive in winter had paid off.

They were also in a better position with RSE workers than last year after one-way quarantine-free travel for RSE workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu was given a green light, Mr Paulin said.

"They’re a very important part of our workforce, but we have 13 RSE workers out of our 150 staff so it’s still only a reasonably small proportion."

Webb’s Fruit owner Simon Webb said the search for summer staff started in June, months earlier than usual.

Mr Webb grows summer stone fruit, apples and pears on over 45ha near Cromwell.

His orchard was well placed for staff to start the season, but he was worried about what February and March might bring, he said.

"You get a few school kids leaving at the end of January.

"We replace [them] with some backpackers out of the cherry orchards and then as we get busier as we get through February, we used to pick up more and more backpackers so that’s our scary thing right now."

The rest of his workforce was fairly stable.

"We’ve got less RSEs than normal but we’ve made that up with students and some of the older people."

He had four RSE workers in but he was unsure how the rest would be allocated for the upcoming season.

"There’s a lot of cherry guys out there who probably haven’t shored up all their staff yet so they’re going to be scampering for the last few staff that are around and if there is a good crop or we get a bit of a spell of warm weather, it’s going to be hard work out there."

Mr Webb expected the worker shortage would bite around March and April.

"Down in Central Otago here, we’re quite busy with grape harvest and apple harvest during that time so you’re needing an extra 10 hands out there on your orchard.

"Everyone’s fighting for every spare staff member around at that time and there aren’t spare hands around to be honest."

— Additional reporting RNZ

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