8 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Horticulture gains employees as urban jobs dry up

8:14 am on 8 April 2020

There are early signs the farming sector is gaining workers as urban jobs dry up.

No caption

A Kiwifruit orchard. Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

The Covid-19 crisis has caused work to slow to a trickle or even stop completely as workers and customers remain in lockdown, and in some cases people's earnings disappear.

The once humming tourism industry is especially vulnerable, with visitor numbers at 3,889,509 in the year to November shrinking to zero due to Covid-19.

However, horticulture has been designated as an essential service as a food producer for both domestic and foreign mouths, and people thrown out of work by Covid-19 are now starting to find jobs among the fruit trees.

Usually, this industry finds it hard to attract workers to harvest the summer and autumn fruit crops.

"But they are now becoming a lifeline for a number of redeployed workers from industries such as tourism, forestry and hospitality," Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said.

His office said some Kiwifruit businesses now had a workforce of over 90 percent New Zealanders, compared with around 50 percent last season.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

The pipfruit industry had seen around 200 workers from other industries placed into jobs across the country.

"It is great to see Kiwis taking up the opportunity to be part of this essential industry," O'Connor said.

"Now is a peak time for picking apples and kiwifruit. Workers are in high demand and around 20,000 are needed at the peak of the harvest."

One grower employing more New Zealanders is Gisborne orchardist Natalya Egan.

She has not been able to get her usual group of backpackers this season.

But half a dozen unemployed locals have stepped in.

They include people from the hospitality industry as well as a painter who is also an up-and-coming rugby player.

"They are helping us get in the harvest which would otherwise have been a challenge, and we are grateful," Egan said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs