19 Feb 2015

Picker shortage threatens apple harvest

8:48 am on 19 February 2015

The pipfruit industry says a shortage of apple pickers could be a major challenge for this year's apple harvest.

Up to 550,000 tonnes of apples are due to be picked in Hawke's Bay, Nelson and Central Otago, but due to late flowering, the start of the harvest has been delayed.

5000 Pacific Islanders have come to New Zealand to work during the harvest and a further 12,000 workers are in Hawke's Bay alone.

But Pipfruit New Zealand business development manager, Gary Jones said all three regions are likely to need more workers because there was more work to do in a shorter space of time.

He said it was physically demanding work which many people could not do, making it hard to fill the jobs.

"The tough front end is getting the fruit off the tree and 550,000 tonnes of fruit up and down an eight foot ladder in the heat of Hawke's Bay, Nelson and Central Otago summers is a lot of hard work, and we really struggle to get enough workers that are available to come and help us."

He said it was particularly difficult in the South Island where Christchurch was pulling in most available workers.

"Nelson and Central Otago are very challenged, now the Nelson crop is only about a week later but again it's a big job there, and in Central Otago it is difficult to find workers as well because there's just not the big urban environment around which you can bring those workers from."

Mr Jones said a new initiative of finding workers through Work and Income is also being trailed this year.

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