Apple picker problem looks rosier in South Canterbury

Waipopo Orchard manager Andrew Forward getting ready for the picking season.

JOHN BISSET/Stuff

Waipopo Orchard manager Andrew Forward getting ready for the picking season.

Concerns about a possible serious shortage of workers to pick apples at two large Timaru orchards appear to have been allayed.

“It’s looking OK for when we start on February 28 and picking from March 1,’’ MA Orchards manager Morten Tonder told Stuff.

“We’re not home and free yet, but we’ve got 130 staff coming from the Pacific Islands, mainly Vanuata. We need another 200 locals and think we’ll get a significant number signed on.’’

He said the worker situation was better than had been expected.

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“We’ve signed three recruitment agencies, so we’ve got plenty of eyes and ears out there.’’

Greater interest had been shown by local people for jobs also, and they were pulling staff from Christchurch to assist. He said accommodation was not a problem and some workers would be staying at local campgrounds.

Waipopo Orchard director James Anderson said they worked hard to get staff and had enough to do thinning work.

“We’ll get sufficient workers for the harvest and it will be challenging, but we’ve got contingencies in place to mitigate any problems.

“We will need 85 at the peak.’’

He expected they would have approximately a dozen workers coming from Vanuatu.

“Harvesting will begin maybe on February 25 through to early April.’’

Tonder said in addition to around 330 pickers they would have 65 support staff. MA Orchards grew only Honeycrisp apples which were transported to Nelson for packing and then shipped to the United States.

“We expect to have 10,000 bins which will have to be finished in 23 to 24 days so it will be full on.

“It has been quite a good growing season.’’

Anderson said their volumes were “reasonable,” but they were still recovering from the big hailstorm in November 2019 and frost.

He described the past year as being challenging.

“We’ve just had to think outside the box to get through.’’

Apple and Pears New Zealand chief executive Allan Pollard said the first group of Registered Seasonal Employers (RSE) workers arrived from the Pacific Islands on Sunday and more were to arrive on Thursday..

After spending a required period in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities they would start working in around two weeks time.

“It has been a massive logistical exercise,” Pollard said

“The Government has approved 2000 workers but the demand has far exceeded that number. We’re still working through the process and there could be an 11,000 deficit needed for apples and kiwifruit.’’

The 2000 workers were being allocated to regions around New Zealand.

Pollard expected with border control restrictions expected to remain, there could be a similar challenge to find workers next year.

“We’re already talking with the government about next year.’’

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