Recently retired founding chairman of co-operative Seasonal Solutions Basil Goodman has been instrumental in transforming the fruit growing industry.
His contribution was recognised recently when he was announced as the winner of the Unsung Hero award at the inaugural Otago Export Awards in Dunedin, hosted by the Otago Chamber of Commerce in partnership with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.
Winning the award was ‘‘a huge honour’’ and Mr Goodman was ‘‘pretty chuffed’’ because of the quality of the other finalists was very high, he said.
The seeds of Seasonal Solutions began in 2004 when fruit growers were having a ‘‘hell of a time’’ finding enough workers to pick fruit, he said.
They were relying ‘‘totally on backpackers’’ turning up at their orchards in a relatively haphazard fashion.
This was leaving fruit unpicked and rotting as orchard owners struggled with labour needs.
So, in 2004, a group of like minded growers got together with the then Work and Income southern regional commissioner John Allen and Central Otago District Council economic development manager Bill Dolan.
The decision was made to do a survey in partnership with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment ‘‘to survey every grower and establish their labour needs for the coming season and for the next five seasons’’.
Encompassing horticulture and viticulture in Central Otago, the survey showed large numbers were needed to ensure the industry could grow.
From that survey, the Central Otago Employment Trust was formed with then Central Otago mayor Dr Malcolm Macpherson chairing.
The trust started to promote to backpackers around the country the right time to be in Central Otago for seasonal work.
Seasonal Solutions Central Otago Ltd was formed, with Mr Goodman as first shareholder and chairman.
His brief was to ‘‘get growers on board’’ and for them to take ownership in the company.
Meeting growers across the region he was able to bring on board 65 shareholders.
‘‘From that, Seasonal Solutions Central Otago Ltd disappeared, and the Seasonal Solutions co-operative was formed.’’
‘‘We weren’t there to make money, we were there to provide a service to our members.’’
At first, the co-operative focused on workers in New Zealand, advertising across the country to backpackers, letting them know the right time to come to Central Otago when they would be needed most.
But soon they were looking across the globe for workers.
A talk by the World Bank at a mayors’ conference attended by then Central Otago mayor Dr Macpherson highlighted the idea of bringing Pacific Islanders to New Zealand for seasonal work.
Dr Macpherson and Mr Goodman seized on this idea and after discussions with officials in both Vanuatu and New Zealand the first 45 workers arrived for the 2007 season.
After the success of this initiative, the Government’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme came into effect in April 2007, allowing employers to recruit workers from overseas to fill the gaps.
The cap was initially set at 5000 workers, and has steadily increased each year leading to the last cap set at 12,850 in November 2018.
With the industry looking for 16,000 workers this season, Mr Goodman said he was frustrated the days of not having enough workers could begin again, and rotten fruit was no good to anyone.