22 Feb 2019

The highs and lows of running an organic orchard

From Country Life, 9:38 pm on 22 February 2019

The recipient of New Zealand's top sustainable farming award says she'd like to see more kiwifruit orchardists provide full-time employment for their staff.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Organic kiwifruit grower Catriona White and her husband Mark are the first horticulturists to win the Gordon Stephenson trophy, which is awarded to one of the 11 regional winners in the annual Farm Environment Awards.

Catriona says she and Mark pay two staff on their Opotiki orchard for a 40-hour week regardless of whether the weather allows them to work the hours or not.

"You look after your staff and your staff look after you."

She says to prevent the spread of the vine killing-disease PSA, work on kiwifruit vines stops when it's raining or when the vines are wet following rain.

"You know, yesterday we were only able to work a couple of hours because it poured down. It actually didn't rain for very long but the vines were still wet so we couldn't work for the rest of the day."

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

If orchard staff were paid only for the actual hours they worked it would have a huge impact on their livelihood, she says.

"It's not their fault that they can't get their hours done because of the weather. They still have their expenses to pay, so we make sure they have the surety of income that each week they will be getting 40 hours pay."

The kiwifruit industry has a shortage of workers and has been criticised for not providing career pathways and work opportunities that are full-time.

The Whites employ backpackers when they need extra hands.

The also use a contractor from time-to-time who brings a gang of workers into the orchard.

"Again that's another labour welfare issue. We always check that he is paying his staff correctly and we also go and ask the staff when they are working on the orchard 'now, are you being paid correctly and are you being paid on time?'".