Otago Daily Times

Warning crops could rot due to labour shortage


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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