4 May 2018

The Apple Gang and Apple Grower

From Country Life, 9:27 pm on 4 May 2018
hand with apple

Photo: Kari Shea / Unsplash

This season the apple industry had a severe shortage of people to pick the crop.

Some in the industry said it motivated, fit workers could make "good" money picking, others said they had Pacific Island workers through the RSE scheme that earnt over a thousand dollars a week.

This week Country Life talks to a few workers who are out harvesting apples.

They don't make that sort of money and say the work is hard physically, but they love working outside and are happy doing what they do.

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Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

The apple gang each takes home about $600 in the hand a week. Rent takes half that money, and even with income from their partners, it's tight. 

Asked how they cope they say "We make something out of nothing. We've been getting by like that for years. It's second nature now".

Meanwhile, apple orchardist Marty Reid says for small growers there's not a lot of money in apple growing, either. 

Some newer varieties like Pink Lady provide good returns, but it's hard to break even on ones like Royal Gala.  

He says when the minimum wage goes to over $20 an hour in a couple of years, his wages bill will increase over $75,000, and that is "scary".

His full-time employees earn above the minimum wage and he'll have to increase their wages to keep pace.  

Marty says they can't just put their prices up, they rely on good export prices.

"You wonder where you'll be in three years time. You wonder if it will be economic to grow apples."

It's a job Marty really enjoys but he says the stresses are huge, worrying about the weather, getting the crop just right during the growing season and then making sure it's well picked.

A poorly picked crop ends up going for juice which is worth nothing.