The Ministry of Social Development has declared a seasonal labour shortage across the Bay of Plenty in a bid to find at least 1,200 people to pick and pack the remainder of this year's kiwifruit harvest, tipped to be around 19 percent, or 20 million trays, higher than a year earlier.
The declaration will be in place from May 7 until June 8 and follows discussions with sector leaders, industry experts and other government agencies, MSD said in a statement. The declaration of a seasonal labour shortage allows overseas visitors, who already hold visitor visas, to apply to vary the conditions of their visas for working in kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty.
Regional commissioner Mike Bryant said there have been a number of factors that led to the shortage being called, including a strong kiwifruit season, a decrease in the number of international students in the region, a bounce back from the PSA virus impacting crop volumes and varieties, and a relatively low unemployment rate in the region.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc forecasts the harvest will be about 142 million trays, up from last season’s crop of 120 million trays. The SunGold variety of kiwifruit, which accounts for 44 percent of total crops, also requires picking in a shorter timeframe and means more reliance on fruit pickers during this period.
The industry body said to date, half of this season’s total kiwifruit crop is yet to be harvested. Still, chief executive Nikki Johnson told BusinessDesk that "while the labour shortage is placing pressure on harvest processes, it will not impact on the ability to meet market demand or fruit quality."
According to Bryant, 85 percent of New Zealand's kiwifruit is grown in the Bay of Plenty. Kiwifruit is New Zealand's fastest-growing horticultural export and the Ministry for Primary Industries predicts more growth in the next two years, with exports to reach $1.8 billion in 2019.