Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, New Zealand Apples & Pears
It is hard to avoid the fact that labour (or more correctly the lack of it) continues to dominate the season. We are now well advanced with harvest, and there are numerous stories of labour not being available or not turning up, and crops not being picked. Members may have seen the recent media stand up, where a number of our members, supported by the processing and meat sectors, invited media for an update on the season and to hear first-hand the consequences of the labour shortage.
At the briefing, I noted that our revised national export crop estimate was now 3m cartons or 14% down on last season. Many say that even this is optimistic. A 14% drop equates to about $130m in lost export earnings, and a broader economic impact of somewhere between $390m and $650m for provincial New Zealand.
In my view, our fate is sealed for this season. There is no prospect of more RSE workers coming into New Zealand in time for our current picking/packing season, and it is likely that through various industry and employer programmes all back packers and kiwis who could be targeted have been targeted. Our focus has now turned to pruning and thinning, and next year’s harvest.
The Trans-Tasman travel bubble may free up some MIQ space which could open up some opportunity for further workers from the Pacific, but the numbers will be limited and the costs likely to be similar to those that applied to the 2,000 border exception. None-the-less we are looking at options to support our growers through pruning and thinning.
We have indicated to government, including to the Prime Minister when she visited Hawke’s Bay, that we cannot survive nor accept another season next year like we have experienced this year. We have also indicated that our expectations are that we will be able to bring in over 10,000 workers for the next season. We do not accept that MIQ should be the vehicle for such worker movement, particularly given the Covid-free status of the Pacific Islands. There are a number of options that we are exploring, for example a vaccinated mobile pacific workforce; a pacific travel bubble; private regional isolation facilities.
You may have noticed that our media exposure has increased and the tone has changed – expect to see more of this in the coming weeks.
On a final note, I want to acknowledge the passing of Annie Aranui, the MSD East Coast Regional Commissioner. Annie touched so many lives in the Hawke’s Bay/East Coast region, and was a strong champion for and supporter of our industry. Our relationship with MSD in this region strengthened under Annie’s leadership and she will be sorely missed.