Labor shortages in the apple industry are costing growers millions of dollars, with an industry-wide loss of more than $105 million expected, industry representatives say. Napier grower Kelvin Taylor said he had to leave 15% to 20% of his apple crop on the trees this year, with not enough hands available to pick the fruit. Taylor, who grew 450 hectares of apples destined for export, said this year has been the hardest he's experienced in almost 50 years.
About 70 local workers and overseas backpackers would usually fill his packhouse, but workers were so scarce he only managed to find 15 this season. There were no backpackers at all.
Before flights were stopped he managed to fill his almost 200-strong seasonal picker worker quota from overseas. But, many of these had to be redeployed into his packhouse, which meant they fell behind with picking.
As apples matured at different rates, they could not all be harvested at the same time. This meant labour was needed during different periods, with some orchards being visited for picking up to five times to harvest the entire crop. Taylor: “You can’t leave them on a tree and pick them at the end of a season, they will be over-mature and there will be quality loss.”