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Severe staffing shortages continue for Central Otago orchardists and fruit will go to waste, affecting producers’ “profitability and morale”, a sector leader says.

Growers are being asked to pool their staffing resources as ongoing border closures and nationwide low unemployment put pressure on the sector.

Summerfruit New Zealand chief executive Kate Hellstrom said it had been a tough two years for growers and the organisation was working with other horticulture product groups and government departments to attract and retain as many seasonal workers as possible.

“We know that fruit will go to waste, which will affect profitability and morale, as some growers only have about half the staff they’ve had in previous seasons,” she said.

At the start of the season the Central Otago District Council (CODC) launched a “Spare Room, Spare Time” campaign to encourage workers to the region, and call for locals to pitch in and lend a hand.

While the council was yet to gauge the success of the campaign, there had been an increase in web traffic to information for seasonal workers on the council website during its launch, a CODC spokeswoman said.

The council would continue with another push for workers as students returned to their studies soon, she said.

In Roxburgh East, Remarkable Orchard owner Sid Birtles said while crops were looking good, staffing shortages were starting to bite.

“We’re constantly looking for people because we are quite short last three to four weeks, even longer, we’re down 30 to 40 people.”

His family had owned the orchard since 1994 and he had not experienced staffing issues to the same extent before, Mr Birtles said.

“This is certainly by far the worst year.

“We’re short-staffed everywhere.”

Webb’s Fruit owner Trudi Webb said the Cromwell orchard had enough staff “for now” but would need more in coming months

It had recently put an SOS out to orchards to help with thinning apples.

“We were lucky and had about 40 staff from other employers come in and get us through that,” she said.

Many students working the season during their summer break often paid double rent for both their university accommodation and where they were working.

She believed more students would take up seasonal work if they were able to access an accommodation supplement or Work and Income support, such as the New Zealand Seasonal Work Scheme.

CentralPac operations manager Tim Hope said the business had put in extra effort to attract New Zealanders this season by helping people access Work and Income support to assist with moving for work, and offering a bonus for staff who finished the season.