With the harvest well underway, the impact of the wet start to the season has fortunately been overcome by a much warmer, dryer weather pattern in recent weeks with quality improving from early January.
While the weather has been mostly favourable, growers are feeling the pressure of the severe labour shortage and low staff turnout rates. This means that a proportion of the summerfruit crop is unlikely to be harvested. Most growers need more pickers and packhouse staff, and while some require an additional handful of workers, others are down by more than 100 staff or have a shortfall of up to 50% of their workforce in some cases.
Even those with just enough staff, who hope they will be able to harvest their full crop, expect to remain on edge for the next three weeks. The number of drop-in and online applications is very low. Because everyone has employed a young, kiwi workforce this season, the competition for the same kiwi workers is fierce. Other industries such as food retail, hospitality and tourism are targeting the same workforce and are experiencing similar shortages.
On your behalf, Summerfruit New Zealand is continuing to work with other horticulture product groups and government departments to find ways to raise awareness of the issues, and support you to attract and retain as many seasonal workers as possible.
While fruit quality has generally been good, there have generally been lower volumes available in the New Zealand market. Supermarket shelves are looking picked over and this, combined with lower volumes and lower pack outs in late December/early January, has led to lower inventory levels. Higher prices at retail and farm gate are reflecting the lower fruit volumes, which is especially evident in plums. In contrast, fruit stalls have been doing well as New Zealanders travel the country although this has tailed off a little as people return to work.
Export volumes are tracking slightly higher than last year (week ending 2 January), so it remains to be seen what the rest of the harvest season will look like – labour supply and ongoing logistics issues will pay a big part here.
We know it is tough for growers at the moment. Knowing that fruit may go to waste is stressful, so please continue to look after yourselves and those around you. Please contact me or one of the Summerfruit NZ team if you think there’s anything we can do to support you further during the harvest.