Industry representatives have reported that labour shortages in the apple sectors are costing growers millions of dollars with an industry-wide loss of more than $105 million expected.
Napier grower Kelvin Taylor said he had to leave 15 percent to 20 percent of his apple crop on the trees this year, with not enough hands available to pick the fruit.
Taylor, who grew 450 hectares of apples destined for export, said this year has been the hardest he experienced in almost 50 years. About 70 local workers and overseas backpackers would usually fill his packhouse, but workers were so scarce he only managed to find 15 this season. There were no backpackers at all.
As apples mature at different rates, they can’t all be harvested at the same time. This means labour is needed during different periods, with some orchards being visited for picking up to five times to harvest the entire crop.
New Zealand Apples and Pears chief executive Terry Meikle said the entire apple harvest would be down an estimated 12 percent this year. In January the 2022 crop was estimated to reach 23.2 million boxes. The forecast was now to about 20.3 million boxes. This meant export earnings dove by $105 million.
On top of labour shortages, adverse weather events in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne also affected this season's apple crop, he said.