by Helen Holt

South Canterbury growers say the expected influx of seasonal workers from the Pacific will be vital shot in the arm for the region’s next harvest season.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this week recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers from Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga will be granted one-way quarantine-free travel into New Zealand from September.

The lack of RSE workers had left orchardists and other horticultural employers scrambling to find workers through the last harvest season.

MA Orchards manager Morten Tonder said the workers would be crucial to their operations.

“If it weren’t for RSEs, we wouldn’t have an operation.

“We did manage to get through last year, but if we didn’t have the RSE workers this year then it would be a lot worse.”

He said the orchard employed as many locals as it could, but needed seasonal workers, especially through February and March.

“This season we’re looking for 320 workers .. and we’re hoping to get 250 to 275 of those from overseas.

“We are very happy.

“We simply wouldn’t be able to harvest without them,” Mr Tonder said.

“Our honey crisp apples need to be picked at the optimum time.

“We can’t let them sit. We had to let a lot of fruit go last year because of issues with shipping and containers.”

Viberi grower Tony Howey said allowing seasonal workers in would be great for the local economy.

“It’s just the best news.

“It’s great from so many perspectives.

“It will be great for the islands, because most of the workers take their earnings back home to their families. They really suffered financially without the seasonal work, as well as the lack of tourism when the borders shut.

“From a horticultural perspective, seasonal workers are needed at the really busy time, and there aren’t enough local workers.

“There were a lot of unpicked apples last year.

“To grow our horticulture ventures, we really need those seasonal workers.”

Mr Howey said many orchards found it difficult to get enough staff through busy periods.

“It’s really difficult to get local staff. Many orchards around the country will have 10 permanent staff, and 80 pickers for one month of the year.

“Our first preference is to have local staff, but it is often during difficult periods that they’re needed.

“The peak requirement is throughout March, when school and university students aren’t available.”