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Horticulture industry seeks laid off New Zealand workers

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The New Zealand horticultural industry wants workers laid off by the tourism, hospitality and forestry sectors to help fill seasonal labour shortages.

Industry sectors including hospitality and horticulture are already talking to each other, says Catherine Beard, chief executive of ExportNZ, part of BusinessNZ, New Zealand’s largest business advocacy body.

Catherine says the horticultural sector’s need for seasonal workers, many traditionally from overseas, could be helped by redeployment of workers in other sectors affected by COVID-19.

Already some forklift drivers have been redeployed from forestry to the apple and pear industry, says Alan Pollard, chief executive of New Zealand Apples and Pears.

He says picking began in late January and fortunately most overseas pickers from the Pacific Islands had already arrived in the country. But their numbers were below a Government cap so more people are still needed.

Mike Chapman, chief executive of Horticulture New Zealand, says that not only is the country dependent on tourism, imported goods and produce being exported out of New Zealand, but we are also reliant on skilled and semi-skilled labour coming to New Zealand each year.

Opportunities available

“For New Zealanders who no longer have a job due to coronavirus, there are opportunities available picking up these semi-skilled jobs in the wine and horticulture industries, but for the skilled jobs, we do not have enough people here in New Zealand.

“Anyone wanting work should contact their local growers or HortNZ because we have jobs (both skilled and semi-skilled) that are available now.

“An example of how globally dependent we have become is seen in the wine industry. As the grape harvest commences, skilled wine makers come from Europe and elsewhere for our wine making season.

“When the season is over, they return to their home countries in time for their grape harvest and wine making season. Seasonal labour is also necessary for pruning the grape vines in winter and assisting with the harvest of our fruit and vegetables.”

Where the labour demand is now

Currently the kumara, kiwifruit and apples harvest has started and labour is needed right around the country, he says.

During winter kiwifruit and apples will need to be picked and grapes pruned.

Mike says it is especially important to protect the health of truck drivers to get the produce to consumers.

Catherine Beard says there are “small signals” that China is getting back on track in receiving our food exports.

Food exported from New Zealand to China makes up about 9 per cent of total food exports to China by value.

She says New Zealand’s strength is that we do a lot of commodity food exports and demand for food is “pretty resilient” through the global chain.

Fresh food getting priority

She has been receiving reports that fresh food is getting priority at China’s borders, and foods considered extra healthy will be in high demand.

I think that will play out quite well for New Zealand.”

Alan Pollard says things are looking good for getting the country’s apples and pears to overseas markets.

They are being shipped overseas and while there have been some disruptions to shipping, they have been able to get around them.

Horticulture New Zealand says food imported from New Zealand to China makes up about 9 per cent of total food imports to China by value.

Mike Chapman says perishable fruit and vegetables are getting priority when they arrive overseas. A lot of tomatoes are currently being exported to Australia, he says.

New Zealand’s Zespri International Limited is the world’s largest marketer of kiwifruit.

First kiwifruit shipment on its way

Spokesman Dave Courtney says picking began in early March. The first kiwifruit shipment, on the Baltic Pearl, left for Japan on March 17, to be followed by shipments to China and Europe.

The shipment is the first of a planned 47 charter vessels carrying new season Zespri kiwifruit to offshore destinations.

Dave says there is very strong demand overseas for fresh fruit and produce because of its health benefits. While authorities overseas are restricting the movement of people they have already made it clear in many places that distributing fresh food has priority which was comforting to the industry in New Zealand.

The Baltic Pearl, carrying just over one million trays of SunGold Kiwifruit, will reach Japan’s Tokyo and Kobe in late March. The vessel had earlier berthed in Gisborne to pick up more than 330,000 trays of SunGold after the region became one of the first to start this season’s kiwifruit harvest.

The first kiwifruit ship of the season, the Nassau-registered Baltic Pearl, gets set to depart Port of Tauranga for Tokyo. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

Blair Hamill, chief global supply officer, says that while there were ongoing challenges associated with COVID-19, all ports in Japan, Korea and Europe were functioning well and had labour available.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation closely and adopting a precautious approach, with our contingency planning taking account of the rapidly changing environment,” says Blair.

“We’re seeing positive signs in China in terms of the improving consumer metrics, and we expect our charter reefer vessels to run as planned.”

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For more information and make contact regarding work in the horticultural industry:

Horticulture New Zealand

Zespri 

Apples and pears NZ

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