This year’s grape and apple harvests are likely to be less affected by Covid-19 than some other industries in the region.
However, there may be worker shortages in the spring for the horticulture sector.
The Government is requiring anyone entering the country to self isolate for 14 days, which means many tourists, conference-goers and other visitors are choosing to stay in their own countries.
That is affecting the region’s tourism and hospitality industries and the reduced business may lead to staff redundancies.
Central Otago careers progression manager Chelsea Donnelly, of Alexandra, met Summerfruit New Zealand board director and Cromwell orchardist Trudi Webb, as well as Otago Polytechnic Central Campus head of school and principal lecturer Alex Huffadine on Tuesday morning, to discuss potential labour issues in the region’s horticultural industry.
Grapes and apples would soon be ready to be harvested; Mrs Donnelly was optimistic there would be enough workers.
“It is not dire and I think we will get through it [the harvests] fine as the workers are already here,” she said.
Those included Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme workers, such as those from Vanuatu, who had already entered New Zealand to work on orchards and other horticulture businesses.
However, she said there was likely to be a “knock on effect” in the spring.
“We will potentially lose the backpacker workforce that we need in the spring time.”
Mr Huffadine said it would be interesting to see what happened to the backpacker labour force.
“We just don’t know how this is going to pan out,” he said.
Hospitality workers looking for work as a result of the drop in tourist numbers would be welcomed with open arms by orchardists and viticulturalists.
“There are jobs for them to go to,” Mrs Donnelly said.
Orchards and vineyards had to keep functioning, and the fruit had to be harvested, and other staff would be needed for coolstore and packing work.
Mrs Donnelly started her new role in February, to promote the range of careers available to secondary and tertiary pupils and students in the horticulture sector.
In addition to growing fruit and vines, there were career paths within the industry which required scientists, managers, HR staff, IT staff, and financial managers.
Mr Huffadine said another temporary source of labour was coming from the Central Campus, which had hosted a group of about 30 South American and Thai students studying subjects including cherry production and English.
The students were working at 45 South orchard and packhouse and Akarua and Amisfield wineries for the harvest and would return home in mid-April.
He said it was also possible, given the downturn in the forestry industry as a result of Covid-19, workers from that sector, could also move into the horticulture industry for work.