HB may need overseas pickers: Keith
Workers from overseas might be needed in the next few years to help harvest the Hawke’s Bay apple crop, says fruit growing industry leader Keith Spackman.
Mr Spackman, who is stepping down as president of the Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ Association, says a shortage of pickers is going to develop into the pipfruit industry’s biggest problem.
Mr Spackman said this week there was little point growing apples if they could not be picked at the right time.
“We were pretty close to being short of pickers,” he said.
The size of the Hawke’s Bay harvest was increasing each year.
This year the Apple and Pear Board received the equivalent of 6.2-million cartons of apples. Next year the equivalent of 7.5-million cartons is expected and in 1988 10.4-million, according to growers’ own estimates given to the board.
Mr Spackman did not believe there would be enough people available in the Hastings district for future harvests.
Growers would have to bring people in from other districts, provide accommodation and offer rewarding rates of pay.
“We’ve talked about it but little has been done,” he said. “We are going to have to persuade the Government to allow people to come into the country on working holidays to work in orchards.
“We might have to persuade the universities to alter holidays to coincide with the main apple harvest and the kiwifruit harvest.”
He said April and May would be the months with the gravest shortages of labour.
Earlier suggestions that universities alter holidays from summertime to harvest time, had met with negative responses.
“I think they are going to have to look at changing for the sake of New Zealand,” he said.
The horticultural industry was expanding rapidly and most of the production was intended for export.
Scientists were testing mechanical methods for harvesting apples.
“I can’t see any breakthrough in the harvesting of pipfruit in this century,” he said.
“We have to present a top quality apple for export and sale on fresh fruit markets. The fruit has to be carefully handpicked.”
Mr Spackman said mechanical improvements in grading and packing machines could be expected to continue each year and would speed the rate at which crops were sorted and packed.
“I believe we will have sufﬁcient workers to do the job in packing sheds,” he said.
Mr Spackman said growers faced a big hurdle over the provision of accommodation on orchards to attract workers from outside the district.
Accommodation had to comply with the building codes of the Hawke’s Bay County Council and the Labour and Health departments.
Mr Spackman’s successor as association president will be chosen at the annual meeting on Thursday night.