At the end of a frustrating season in the mid-1990s, grower Basil Goodman, the fruit grower manager of a large syndicated stone fruit and cherry orchard outside Cromwell, was truly tired of seeing his fruit drop to the ground and rot because there was no-one to pick it. And he knew he was not the only grower in Central Otago with that problem. Therefore, to combat labour issues, he helped initiate a survey of apple, stone fruit and grape growers, to work out their seasonal worker requirements.
''The magic number ended up being around 5000 - horrifying to us all in an area where we might be able to get a few hundred university students, backpackers or others at best.''
It was really the first time the industry started to understand the magnitude of the challenge it faced, he said. After discussion with local authorities, Ministry of Social Development southern regional commissioner John Allen hit on the idea of establishing a co-operatively based labour pool service. ‘Seasonal Solutions Central Otago’ was born.
Mr Goodman became the first chairman of Seasonal Solutions and said initially the plan was to get more backpackers in, under a working holiday scheme. ''This was tremendously successful and is still an important part of the industry's seasonal worker base,'' he said.
A pilot scheme initiated in 2006 and backed by $100,000 in seed capital by the World Bank, proved to be the real kick-start to the programme, enabling 45 workers from Vanuatu to be employed for seven months by Seasonal Solutions' grower members and Mr Apple orchards in Hawke's Bay.
Today the Alexandra-based co-operative, which represents 64 horticulture and viticulture businesses, has grown to 22 staff, including three in Vanuatu. Last season the organisation brought 1500 workers from Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to Central Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough.