[17 January/Rural News]

Long term allocation of recognised seasonal worker (RSE) numbers is required to ensure the industry can plan ahead, reported Gary Jones of NZ Apples and Pears. The industry is looking at a 30,000 tonne increase in the crop in Hawkes Bay and Nelson, requiring about 500 more workers. Realistically the region requires 2,000 more workers in Hawkes Bay alone for the harvest season which starts mid-February. Mr Jones noted the difficulty to find sources of NZ labour, commenting on work with the prisons and the Ministry for Social Development to get people into work.  He added backpackers are not meeting the shortfall and whilst the apple sector is attracting thousands of backpackers, tens of thousands of people are needed across NZ for harvest. More strategic discussions for a longer term solution are necessary. With a reputation built on quality it is critical New Zealand fruit is picked on time. Without a permanent solution to labour shortages, Mr Jones fears we will start to erode brand value and return to a commodity cycle which would be unfortunate.