A new report on labour issues facing Central Otago’s horticulture and viticulture sectors indicates increases in grower-supplied accommodation and dramatic workforce changes from closed borders.

The Horticulture and Viticulture Central Otago Labour Survey was prepared by Thrive Consulting for the Central Otago Labour Market Governance Group in November last year and released by Summerfruit New Zealand last week.

It shows a 12.6% increase in hectares planted in the sector from the 2017-18 season to 2020-21, going from 3821ha to 4304.

Cherry plantings accounted for 52% of that, at 1187ha.

There had been a dramatic change in the labour force makeup post Covid-19 as closed borders stopped the open flow of Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers and backpackers, while demand for staff grew due to the added plantings.

The report noted that new plantings took three to five years to reach full production so the demand for labour was expected to increase. It was estimated that backpacker numbers had reduced from an average of 70,000 in the country to 5000 in October 2021, meaning they made up fewer than 10% of potential staff during the 2021-22 season.

RSE numbers also fell due to border closures.

There was significant grower investment in accommodation since the 2017-18 survey, particularly within the horticulture sector, as new plantings required more labour and workers required accommodation.

“Continued investment in accommodation is required to match the growth in production and labour demand,” the survey summary stated.

Webbs Fruit owner Simon Webb said in the past five years, the company had increased its accommodation by an additional 22 beds, as well as two kitchen and shower and toilet blocks.

They also had sites available for campers and Wi-Fi available.

“We’ve always had accommodation on our site but as we’ve expanded we’ve had to spruce it up a bit,” he said.