Harvest misses target amid labor shortage

2022 NZ kiwifruit harvest complete

The 2022 harvest of New Zealand’s largest horticultural produce, kiwifruit, is now largely complete with almost all 2,800 growers’ orchards from Kerikeri in the north to Motueka in the south picked for consumers. The 2022 season was expected to have a record-breaking crop of at least 190 million trays of kiwifruit, overtaking last year’s record of over 177 million trays. On average, each tray has around 30 pieces of kiwifruit. However, revisions in the forecast indicate that this year’s volume will be below 2021. Current thought to the reduction is due to labour supply, crop loading and weather. Investigation is this space is ongoing.

2022 also marks the first year that Zespri’s new RubyRed kiwifruit was picked as a commercial variety, which was then followed by the gold and green varieties. The sweet, berry-tinged tasting red kiwifruit was picked for supermarket shelves in New Zealand and overseas markets.

Despite the uncertainty of seasonal labour supply at the beginning of the year, all growers had the opportunity to have their kiwifruit picked and packed. The success of the 2022 kiwifruit harvest hinged on the ability for industry’s supply chain to operate effectively with a restricted labour supply under the changing COVID-19 settings. The 24,000 seasonal workers required to pick and pack the crop were restricted due to COVID-19 infection rates as well as closed borders which limited the 6,500 backpackers traditionally utilised for harvest operations.

CEO of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. (NZKGI), Colin Bond says that experience of COVID-19 from the two previous seasons gave the kiwifruit industry the foresight to streamline processes across the supply chain to mitigate foreseeable risks.

“Growers and the wider industry were under immense pressure to ensure that New Zealand’s kiwifruit were harvested. Our industry plays a critical role in employing both permanent and seasonal workers as well as supporting local businesses associated with the industry in our kiwifruit regions across New Zealand. I would also like to make special mention of the RSE workers from the Pacific Islands who stepped up under extraordinary circumstances to fill roles where New Zealanders could not be found”, says Colin. “Getting all the fruit off the vines would have been unlikely without them.”

To attract seasonal workers to pick and pack in the harvest, NZKGI implemented the fourth year of its campaign to advertise seasonal jobs to New Zealanders. The campaign included implementation of a diverse range of mediums to promote roles as well as information on what to expect about working in the industry.

Almost all packhouses told NZKGI that they would be paying at least the living wage of $22.75 per hour. Kiwifruit picking was also expected to exceed the living wage with an average of $27 per hour paid last year when the minimum wage was $20 per hour. NZKGI is currently surveying the industry to ascertain the final payrates for the 2022 season.

Growers have experienced a continuation of increased costs this year such as payrates, impacting upon their business’s profitability. The increase in areas such as labour, fuel and shipping, alongside the forecast lower crop volume will impact upon grower returns. Grower returns are important not only for growers, but also for the economic contribution that the growers bring to their communities. The kiwifruit industry is an important player for communities across New Zealand, contributing $2.2bn in 2021.

Source: nzherald.co.nz

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