LISTEN ABOVE AS MIKE CHAPMAN FROM HORTICULTURE NEW ZEALAND SPEAKS WITH TIM DOWER
Hawke's Bay fruit growers are again struggling to find pickers, a problem some fear will reach a "perfect storm" come apple harvest time.
In March last year a concerted effort to find fruit pickers in the region saw just 14 people express an interest and resulted in a Government declaration of a regional labour shortage.
Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association president Ben James said a lack of pickers in 2019 could see growers forced to leave fruit hanging on trees.
"If growers can't pick their crop when the fruit is at its best, then the fruit is not worth as much.
"There is no two ways about it, there is going to be a big, big labour shortage come harvest time."
He said a growing horticulture industry meant many New Zealanders who used to do seasonal work had moved into permanent roles in the industry.
Statistics New Zealand figures show the region's unemployment rate in November was just 4 per cent, down from 9.3 per cent at the same time last year.
That means an extra 4400 people in the region are already in employment.
"It's fantastic there are so many Kiwis out in work, and we are upskilling Kiwis to get a career out of horticulture, but for that to continue to happen we need to be able to harvest our crop," James said.
"I don't even have enough Kiwis to run and supervise my seasonal staff."
He said the Government needed to allow in more Recognised Seasonal Workers (RSEs), a scheme which allows horticulturalists and viticulturists to recruit workers outside of the country when there are not enough New Zealand workers.
National's horticulture spokesman Lawrence Yule said the combination of big crops and the labour shortage were creating a "perfect storm" for growers across the country.
"New Zealand Apples and Pears is expecting a record harvest of up to 600,000 tonnes of fruit.
"Kiwifruit growers are also bracing for a golden harvest and the signs are that grape volumes will be big. They'll be competing with summer fruit orchards for workers and the word in many regions is that there just aren't enough locals available."
He said the Government could again declare a seasonal worker shortage, which would allow work visas to be fast-tracked.
"The Government has tried to kick this issue for touch by announcing a review of the RSE scheme sometime in 2019 while saying growers should do more to attract local workers.
"The simple fact is there aren't enough local workers."
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones told 1News he was "unimpressed" with the attitude of 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.
Jones told 1News the industry needs to innovate and look at better working conditions.