Saturday, December 2, 2023

Growers see red over picker delay

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Government announcements on immigration worker changes have left crop growers firmly in the cold as harvest looms but have pleased other agricultural sectors.
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The has been no resolution to Recognised Seasonal Employer worker shortages that left crops rotting in paddocks last year. 

But the meat industry has welcomed the move as eliminating its 2000 worker deficit and allowing plants to run at full capacity.

A new employer-assisted temporary work visa process aims to make employing staff from overseas simpler and quicker. 

But Perrys Berrys owner Francie Perry said the scheme does little to help early harvest horticultural growers, many facing the new harvest season well short of the workers they need. 

She has led a plea to Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway after months of being frustrated by his failure to state how many more RSE workers the sector will get this year.

“Last year we asked for 85 workers and we only got 20 out of the 1200 people we employ. 

“We ended up with 250 tonnes of strawberry crop rotting in the ground because we did not have enough staff to pick it. 

“We have been trying for months this year to find out what the cap number for workers will be, originally being told it would be July, then August and now September and we are harvesting already.”

Last harvest season the Government granted access for 12,850 RSE workers. 

But calls have been growing for significant increases as the horticulture sector grapples with growth in almost all regions of the country.

Perry said she invested heavily in accommodation for staff, anticipating she would need at least 100 RSE workers this year.

“But the time delays already mean that things are too late. 

“It takes a month to allocate workers by area and until the end of February before you get them.

“It’s just too late and I have been singing this song for three years.”

Northland vegetable grower and RSE instigator Brett Heap said Horticulture New Zealand’s ambitious target of $10 billion by 2020 has real issues around staff for harvest.

“I have land that I won’t develop and have left in pasture because I have serious doubts about being able to harvest whatever I grow on it.”

Perry said while the immediate shortage caused by Lees-Galloway’s delay will be felt by growers like her it will extend to later harvesting sectors quickly.

Lees-Galloway has said a decision on RSE numbers and allocation would be made shortly.

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