older people who travel the country in motorhomes and caravans could help alleviate the shortage of workers to pick fruit in Central Otago in the next few months. Yvonne O’Hara reports.

Grey nomads are being urged to answer a call for help with this year’s fruit harvest — and as an added bonus for orchardists, they bring their own accommodation.

Central Otago District Council economics manager Nick Lanham has been working with the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association Inc (NZMCA) to encourage motorhome and caravan owners, who are mostly retired and tour the country as a lifestyle, to come to Central Otago to lend a hand with this year’s fruit harvest.

Seasonal Solutions Co-op and Central Otago Tourism are also sharing a stand at the association’s Motorhome, Caravan and Leisure Show in Hamilton this week to promote the message.

The visitors can earn good money pruning, fruit-picking and packing, and at the same time help alleviate the predicted shortage of seasonal workers.

Demand for labour will run from mid-October through to April and Central Otago orchardists will have up to 5000 jobs at peak demand in December and January.

Mr Lanham said Covid-19 restrictions had meant many of the backpackers, tourists and recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers from Vanuatu and other Pacific islands, which the sector usually relied on, were unavailable.

‘‘This year our traditional pool of labour has changed and we have had to be a little bit innovative,’’ he said.

‘‘We need to look at other options to solve our labour problems. ‘‘They [NZMCA members] also bring their own accommodation with them.’’

Some orchardists have sites allocated for caravans and motorhomes, as they have used the nomads in the past, and Mr Longman suggested others provide similar facilities.

‘‘The region and the work will appeal to people looking for a change, or wishing to do something a bit different.

‘‘It is a pretty spectacular place to work in and explore at the same time.’’

Seasonal Solutions Co-op chief executive officer Helen Axby said she had talked to a few people in the industry who said they would welcome caravans and motorhome owners with open arms.

‘‘They come down here for the summer and toddle off back when it gets chilly,’’ she said.

‘‘They need to be relatively physically fit to work, but then they don’t have to work fulltime if they want, just three to four days a week, and just stay for a couple of months, which would be fine.’’

There were plenty of opportunities and a wide variety of work, from vineyards and orchards to cool stores and packhouses, throughout the season in Central Otago, she said.

‘‘I think we could probably find a reasonable number of people and twist a few arms to find parking spaces with plugs.’’

Sid and Toni Birtles, of Remarkable Orchards, Teviot, employ several retired workers with self-contained caravans or mobile homes every year.

They park near the orchard and work in the packhouse in early January through to February.

They stay from four to six weeks to a couple of months and tend to return most years, so are familiar with the work.

‘‘It is great for them and great for us,’’ Mrs Birtles said.


Orchard living

New Zealand Motor Caravan Association Inc (NZMCA) marketing assistant Serayan van Nes lists things that would encourage members to stay in orchards:

– Parking, either at the orchard for a good rate or in reasonable parking nearby.
– Plug-in power source, either at the orchard or nearby for members to charge batteries.
– Dump station at the orchard or close to it.
– Water at the orchard available for use.
– Toilets. If toilets are accessible, it saves the amount of time necessary to empty the tank.
– Access to showers — a nice extra but not overly important.
– Wi-Fi — also a nice extra, but most people have cellular.

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