A Big Crop and Few Labourers

With the 2022 apple and pear crop predicted to reach 601,000 tonnes, with a potential 23.2 million 18kg boxes packed off for sale overseas, apple grower and exporter Simon Easton is worried. He has half the normal number of labourers and few backpackers.

Tasman-based Easton of Wairepo Holdings​ said the fruit is colouring and looking good, but because of a labour shortage and high costs he may have to leave some of it to rot. Easton calculated he may only get the first-class apples picked for export and have to leave the rest, which he has never done before.

He is weighing up this option because freight costs have doubled, and he is down about 30 recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers. He has virtually no backpackers to draw on either.

“It would be heartbreaking to see 11 months of work going to waste in this way,” Easton​ said.

He said he would know in about a month if this is what he would need to do.

“It’s a scary harvest this time.”

Recently appointed New Zealand Apples and Pears chief executive Terry Meikle said, with Omicron hovering, the labourers who were available might not even be able to work throughout the season.

“The challenges for harvest are compounded by the arrival of Omicron in Tonga and Samoa, coupled with the ongoing disaster recovery effort in Tonga,” Meikle said.

“We are working hard with the NZ and Pacific Governments, Air New Zealand, our employers and of course our Tongan workers, to return home those in need and bring back those who are ready to return.

“The economic recovery of the Pacific and the success of the New Zealand apple and pear sector are linked. Our horticulture industries are the largest non-government employers of workers from Pacific countries.”

Meikle said the opening of the border was too late for this season’s harvest.