By Emma Perry
A South Canterbury apple orchard says it is in serious trouble as it looks to find up to 300 workers for its harvest at the end of February.
M A Orchard produces one variety of the fruit on its 80ha of land, organic Honeycrisp apples, mostly for export to the United States.
At the beginning of each year it has a four-week harvesting period and requires about 400 workers to pick the apples.
M A Orchards general manager Morten Tonder said it had about 100 staff at the moment, a combination of locals, students and backpackers, to help with pruning.
“We initially employed 146, we’re down to about 100 with some people leaving for different reasons.
“We’re happy to be able to employ locals but there simply aren’t enough out there.”
It was expected that, when it came time to begin harvesting the apples, on about February 25, there would not be enough hands, Mr Tonder said.
“I think we have enough to get by at the moment but come harvest we will be in serious trouble .. we will lose the fruit.
“The problem is the harvest only lasts four weeks. We’re a bit of a one-hit wonder.”
M A Orchards normally hired staff from Vanuatu through the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme which allowed the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work.
“They would work with us and then go on to work in Nelson.”
Mr Tonder said the company was working with three recruitment agencies to find people.
A Government announcement this week granting access through the border for 2000 workers in the new year was a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We hope we might get 200 overseas workers.”
Elsewhere, smaller fruit growers were counting their blessings as due to their smaller size they did not need overseas workers.
Butlers Berry Farm owner Jackie Butler said she thought it would have enough workers to get through the strawberry and raspberry picking season.
She said the partners of local dairy workers living in the area worked seasonally for them.
The farm had planted fewer strawberries than it normally would because of Covid-19.
“We have less fruit than we used to have .. at the moment we’re just doing the local market so we will only need about eight to 10 workers for the season.”
She said a pick-your-own option was also available to people and did not require workers.
Redwood Cherries and Berries owner Jo Malone said she usually hired only university students or high school-aged pupils to help.