Exports will be down significantly as fruit stays on the trees, industry group warns.
The apple industry is feeling the full force of a chronic labour shortage, as a new forecast shows this years crop will be down 14 per cent on last year.
New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc expects the export share of the national crop will be 19.3 million cartons, 3 million cartons fewer than last year, which represents a $95 million to $100m fall in export earnings.
But a Hawkes Bay grower believes those numbers are too optimistic, and that his region alone will be down $100m.
Paul Paynter of Yummy said the figures reflected the calm before the storm as some varieties were still to be picked.
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The real crunch of the industry is going to come in about 10 days time when were at the peak of our season and there’s no way were going to get the crop picked.
I think Hawkes Bay will be maybe 20 per cent down on earnings, and Nelson’s obviously been hit by the hail storm this year. I think their numbers are optimistic.
Mad Melon’s Jamin Brown is scaling up his juice business with demand coming from growers whose fruit was damaged in the Boxing Day hail storm.
NZAPI’s chief executive Alan Pollard agreed that the new estimates were light and could well be higher when the season was complete and it was known how its overseas markets had reacted.
When the industry had asked the Government to relax the border for overseas seasonal workers, it had estimated that the industry was $200m-$300m at risk.
Around 2000 workers had been let in but labour was still well short, despite doing all we can to attract New Zealanders into work.
Another issue was the size of this years fruit, which was good quality but smaller than forecast, putting premium sizes in short supply.
And although overseas demand was strong, port issues such as getting enough empty containers and clearing overseas ports in a timely way were also concerns.
Pollard was also critical of the Government’s reliance on Kiwi workers. Normally the industry had approval for more than 14,000 temporary seasonal worker visas, and would have about 11,000 to 10,000 workers on the orchards at any one time.
Alan Pollard says the industry tried to get in more overseas pickers but was denied.
There were currently about 5000 workers from last years season still here, plus this season’s 2000, but that was still well shy.
Normally the workforce was topped up by overseas backpackers who were also in short supply.
The industry had asked to be allowed to create regionalised quarantine facilities for RSE workers, but the Government had decided the controls would not be tight enough, even though the workers had come in from virtually Covid-free countries like Samoa and Vanuatu.
On the one hand, I understand that; on the other it doesn’t make any sense to me that you bring in people from Covid-free countries and put them into hotels with people who are infected with Covid.
Its not a situation that we’d find tenable for next season.
Apples at a Lower Moutere orchard damaged by a hail storm that hit the Nelson region in December.
Paynter said he was down 60 workers on last year at present and he would need another 100 in 10 days time when more fruit ripened.
Were in a spot where were actually coping this week, but next week we wont.
Many Kiwis had not been interested in working just for three months and accommodation was a problem in many areas, so overseas workers and backpackers were vital, he said.
The new forecast is well down from January, when the industry anticipated a gross national crop of 558,672 metric tonnes, 5 per cent down on the 2020 harvest.
The export share of the crop was expected to be 374,751 metric tonnes or 20.8 million cartons, down 7 per cent.
Paul Paynter of Yummy says when his harvest peaks next week, he will be 160 workers short.
But as the harvest nears its peaks, the industry now expects a gross national crop to be around 347,718 metric tonnes.
Hail in Nelson and Central Otago in December had also affected the crop. The Motueka Fruit Growers Association estimated in January that they stood to lose over $100m in damage and lost income.
Braeburn was the most significantly impacted export variety, with a revised estimate of 1,468,000 cartons, about 44 per cent below 2020 levels.
Royal Gala, which held with the largest share of exports, is now forecast to be 15 per cent or 1,088,000 cartons lower than last year, with Cripps Pink 15 per cent down and Fuji 19 per cent down.
The Dazzle, Envy,, Honeycrisp and Rockit brands continued to show strong growth as new plantings come into production.