WHILE Australian growers and politicians bemoan the lack of locals taking up fruit picking jobs, the New Zealand summerfuit industry has praised its countrymen for heeding the call.
Industry body Summerfruit NZ publicly thanked New Zealand for its "magnificent response" to its call for help with this season's harvest.
Like Australia, COVID-19 impacted New Zealand's ability to source international backpackers and Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers (similar to Australia's Pacific Labour Scheme).
It was feared that there would be a shortage of people keen on moving to the regions to supplement local workers at harvest time.
But Summerfruit NZ collaborated with the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry for Primary Industries, other industry organisations, councils and HortNZ to raise public awareness of the shortage through the Handpicked and Opportunity Grows Here campaigns which began in spring.
Summerfruit NZ's chief executive, Richard Palmer, said he was extremely thankful New Zealanders heard the call and responded in greater numbers than hoped for.
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"The response overall across the summerfruit regions of Hawke's Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago has been fantastic and many growers and packers have received far more applications than they would normally expect at this time of year," Mr Palmer said.
Nevertheless, there were still pockets of orchards that were having difficulty in attracting sufficient numbers of people.
The New Zealand summerfruit season can last up until April.
"Mother Nature dictates when the season starts. This year it has been quite changeable and now looks to be three to five days ahead of 2019," Mr Palmer said.
The cherry harvest usually lasts around six weeks, straddling Christmas and New Year, and is in full swing in January, with other summerfruit crops increasing in volume around then.
"Keeping people on board for the full cherry crop and then the other summerfruit crops is a major concern," Mr Palmer said.
"In the past our wonderful students work through to mid to late January and then international backpackers have filled their roles."
"We need to make sure the incentives are there to keep people employed as long as the work is available."
Last November, industry body Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ) said it was appreciative of the NZ Government's decision to let 2000 RSE workers from the Pacific into New Zealand under strict quarantine and employment conditions.
HortNZ chief executive, Mike Chapman, said horticulture was an enormous contribution to make to New Zealand's economic recovery if it can pick and pack its crops when they are ready to harvest so they can be exported in top quality condition and command premium prices.
"While the timing of the Government's decision means that spring and early summer crops have missed out, growers across the country are relieved that some of the essential workers needed from low COVID risk Pacific countries are being let it," Mr Chapman said.
"The 2000 RSE workers is a positive start to addressing current seasonal labour issues but we also need to start planning for spring 2021 and harvest 2022."
Since April, HortNZ has worked in partnership with key RSE employer product groups - New Zealand Apples and Pears, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated, and Summerfruit New Zealand - to get agreement from Government officials and Ministers to allow RSE workers in.
Mr Chapman said New Zealanders were the first priority for employment in the horticulture industry.
"While more New Zealanders will be available for picking and packing this season, the industry is still facing a significant shortfall of seasonal workers," he said.
"That is why horticulture will continue to work with the Government to identify opportunities to return more RSE workers to New Zealand, as Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) capacity allows."
"The horticulture industry will also continue to run its highly successful programmes to attract and retain New Zealanders, not just for seasonal work but for rewarding and well-paying careers."
New Zealanders already make up half the seasonal workforce, thanks to these attraction programmes, bonuses for completing the season, and support like transport, accommodation and meals.
The story NZ horticulture thanks local workers for "magnificent response" first appeared on Good Fruit & Vegetables.