Kiwis turn to horticulture amid Covid-19 changes
The number of New Zealanders working in horticulture is surging as the coronavirus outbreak reshapes the labour market.
Overseas workers traditionally fill many roles in horticulture but because of Covid-19 precautions, many are not available.
At the same time, many Kiwi workers have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed and looking for work outside their usual industry.
A large number have turned to horticulture, where the autumn harvest is in full-swing and lockdown has caused staffing headaches.
According to New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI), some businesses now have a workforce of over 90 per cent New Zealanders, compared to around 50 per cent last season.
Last week, more than 100 staff took up roles in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Nelson.
The pipfruit industry has also seen an increase in Kiwi employees, with 200 staff from other industries taking jobs across the country.
Gisborne grower Natalya Egan has taken on several new staff to help with the harvest at Illawarra Orchard, which grows apples, kiwifruit, citrus and wine grapes.
And their backgrounds are as diverse as the produce.
"We've got someone who was working in hospitality, a shearer who was headed to the United States, and a painter," she says.
"We've also hired someone from the education sector who's taken on the job of being our Covid-19 compliance officer."
Grower Natalya Egan has taken on Kiwi staff left jobless by the coronavirus outbreak. Supplied image.
The orchard usually has 13 staff year-round but that number swells during busy periods like thinning and harvest.
Although not reliant on migrant workers using the Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme, Natalya frequently employed backpackers alongside local people.
"That isn't an option this year but we do have local people who wouldn't normally have been available."
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says horticulture workers were in high demand and more than 20,000 were needed at the peak of harvest.
"There are jobs going all over the country in our key growing areas and the Government is working alongside the primary sector to help ensure workers get to the places they are needed.
"We are currently investigating further ways we can boost the primary sector essential workforce through the Government's $100 million redeployment scheme."
Horticulture contributed about $6 billion a year to the economy and was becoming a lifeline for workers from industries like tourism, forestry and hospitality, which had been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, says Damien.
"There is no shortage of demand for our produce. The world needs a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables and our country is in the position to help do that.
"Our primary sector is part of the solution to global food security concerns in the short-term and will play a critical role in New Zealand's economic recovery after Covid-19," he said.
"[That] is why we have ensured that our food supply chain can continue to operate during the lockdown to keep our exports flowing."