Written by: The Gisborne Herald
8 Mar 2021

Horticulture industry desperately needs labour

Up to 200 people are desperately needed to pick crops in Tairawhiti.

More than 22 million kilograms of apples and kiwifruit must be picked by the end of April, and pickers are also needed for citrus and vegetable harvests.

To enlist workers, a meet-and-greet titled Help The Harvest is being held on Thursday at Turanga Ararau (154 Kahutia Street) from 5.30pm.

Help the Harvest has been set up to address the critical shortage of apple and kiwifruit pickers for Tairawhiti’s multi-million-dollar export crops.

It is a collaborative effort between the industry-owned and government-backed Tipu Project, the Ministry of Social Development, Trust Tairawhiti, orchardists and prospective employees.

“Our goal is to fill the much-needed 150 to 200 positions immediately,” says TIPU advisory group member Tim Egan.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to sign up to work, so will have representatives from MSD and Turanga Ararau on hand to help.”

The kiwifruit and apples set to be harvested over the next five to six weeks are worth around $65 million, which Mr Egan says is the tip of the iceberg.

“That doesn’t include citrus or vegetables.

“The horticulture industry desperately needs labour.”

Picker shortage is the result of Covid-19 border closures.

The industry nationwide relies on backpackers and international crews of pickers, and the current shortage has been exacerbated by other industries chasing workers.

Locally, the picking season for apples and kiwifruit is set to start on March 15.

Weekend, evening and weekday work is available.

Help the Harvest is calling on the likes of kapa haka groups, sports teams and other organisations to look at the opportunity as a fundraiser.

The 8.4 million kilograms of apples need to be off the trees by the end of April. They will be packed locally before being exported to Asia, Europe, the United Arab Emirates and North America.

The 14 million kilograms of kiwifruit will head to the same markets. A small amount of each will be sold on the domestic market.

Mr Egan estimates there are 50-plus orchards, growers and contractors needing help, and he’s hopeful all will be part of the Help the Harvest campaign.

“While it is the next six weeks that are so crucial, there is always the possibility of more work, including year-round employment.

“Harvest is certainly the peak but we have an increasing number of trees and vines to be pruned, thinned and trained, as well as processed and packed.”

Tairawhiti is the fastest-growing apple region in the country, accounting for

3 percent of the national crop.

Varieties grown here include envy, jazz, galaxy, royal gala and dazzle.

The region produces approximately 3.6 million trays of kiwifruit from 354 hectares covering gold 3, green and red varieties, all of which are marketed through Zespri.

It accounts for around 2 percent of the national crop.

Libby Te Rauna is project manager for Help the Harvest and can be contacted on 021-158-7619.

“The work hours are very flexible,” Ms Te Rauna says, “with the big goal of getting as many hands as possible out in the orchards to get this fruit to market.”

Anyone is welcome to attend the Help the Harvest meet and greet.