Otago Daily Times

Warn­ing crops could rot due to labour short­age

- ERIC FRYKBERG

WELLING­TON: A group of 14 New Zealand grow­ers, in­clud­ing at least one in Otago, has is­sued a joint warn­ing that some fruit and veg­eta­bles could rot un­har­vested this sum­mer be­cause of a short­age of peo­ple to pick them.

This could re­duce the sup­ply of pro­duce and push up prices.

The warn­ing came from farm­ers at the front­line of the loom­ing picker short­age, such as grow­ers of some veg­eta­bles, straw­ber­ries, stone fruit, cher­ries and wa­ter­mel­ons.

There have been weeks of warn­ings the Covid­19 ban on recog­nised sea­sonal em­ployer (RSE) work­ers could leave grow­ers in the lurch, de­spite months of work and thou­sands of dol­lars of in­vest­ment in get­ting the crops ready.

Last year, 14,400 RSE work­ers were ap­proved for New Zealand.

This year, the only ones avail­able are those who were un­able to go home from last year be­cause of travel re­stric­tions into their own coun­tries.

Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand has protested this but be­lieves a de­ci­sion will have to wait un­til af­ter the elec­tion.

Brett Heaps, who grows zuc­chi­nis near Kerik­eri, poured scorn on this.

‘‘Crops don’t wait [for an elec­tion],’’ he said.

‘‘We have got to har­vest now — it is crit­i­cal.’’

An­other signee of this warn­ing let­ter was Stephen Dar­ling, a cherry, apri­cot and ap­ple grower from Et­trick, in Cen­tral Otago.

He agreed this prob­lem could not wait.

‘‘We know the Gov­ern­ment is aware of the im­por­tance of our crops, but time is slip­ping by,’’ he said.

‘‘The need for pick­ers is now.’’

The grow­ers said in­com­ing

RSE work­ers could be put in quar­an­tine here and could be cho­sen from coun­tries with no re­ported cases of Covid in the first place.

Labour has said many times the border must be kept se­cure for the sake of pub­lic health in New Zealand.

It has also cast doubt on the re­li­a­bil­ity of the of­fi­cial Covid­free sta­tus of sev­eral states listed by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Pa­cific states such as Van­u­atu and the Solomon Is­lands are among them, and they tra­di­tion­ally pro­vide RSE work­ers to New Zealand.

The Na­tional Party has sup­ported the prin­ci­ple of get­ting RSE work­ers from Covid­free coun­tries.

The 14 signees of the let­ter said with­out hav­ing a core staff of ex­pe­ri­enced over­seas work­ers, the crops would not get har­vested, and con­se­quen­tial va­can­cies for New Zealan­ders with long­term jobs in the hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­try would not be avail­able.

They also said pick­ing was often hard phys­i­cal work and un­suit­able for many of the peo­ple the Labour Party was try­ing to steer in its di­rec­tion.

They also crit­i­cised the an­nounce­ment of an in­quiry into su­per­mar­ket prices, call­ing it a hol­low prom­ise when as a re­sult of the Gov­ern­ment’s in­tran­si­gence, early crops would be left rot­ting in the ground and prices would sky­rocket due to lack of avail­abil­ity.

Ex­port mar­kets could be lost, they said.

‘‘Amer­ica’s Cup sailors can come into the coun­try; trac­tor driv­ers can come into the coun­try; film work­ers can come into the coun­try, but peo­ple who do the hard work of get­ting food to New Zealan­ders are ap­par­ently not ‘crit­i­cal’ work­ers,’’ the signees said. — RNZ

❛ Crops don’t wait

[for an elec­tion]

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