The kiwifruit industry is spearheading a job campaign to fill thousands of vacancies and avoid the 1200 worker shortfall that happened last year.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said the kiwifruit harvest was forecast to be even higher than 2018, meaning about 18,000 workers would be needed.

"Last year, the harvest was at least 1200 workers short at the peak – we don't want a repeat of that."

The labour drive would target local students, unemployed Kiwis, retirees and backpackers, ''to show them what the industry can offer and address any misconceptions about the work''.


Kiwi workers would be given priority, but a recently launched Kiwifruit Jobs NZ page was designed to showcase kiwifruit work to international backpackers and workers.

Johnson said a lot of incorrect information exists about the industry which made it harder to recruit people.

"That includes the pay rates – they are actually very competitive. We will highlight the facts about kiwifruit work through our campaign to rectify myths."

Kiwifruit pickers would be needed from late March through June for harvesting fruit.

"But there's also a large number of workers needed in the packhouses in a wide range of processing roles, as the fruit leaves the orchards to be prepared for distribution overseas."

An emphasis on long-term and permanent career roles available were another focus, she said.

''As New Zealand's largest horticultural earner, it'd be great to see more Kiwis reaching out to their local kiwifruit employers and discussing potential career pathways that may be on offer."

Trevelyans Kiwifruit Packhouse managing director James Trevelyan said the bulk of the industry had got behind the project and put money in.


''I think it's just great when we all do a little bit the results are always far better than us all trying to bat away by ourselves to try and make noise.''

Earlier National MP for Bay of Plenty Todd Muller called for the Government to declare a seasonal worker shortage in the region.

On Friday the Ministry for Social Development declared a seasonal labour shortage in the Hawke's Bay. It means people on visitor visas can apply for a variation of conditions, to enable them to work on orchards and vineyards in the region.

Fruit growers were grateful the cap was lifted on the Recognised Seasonal Employer in 2018 but that doesn't go nearly far enough in a season some are calling a "perfect storm" of big crops and a worker shortage, he said.

Ministry for Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said it was continuing to work with the Bay of Plenty kiwifruit industry as part of the solution to meet their labour market needs.

''For a regional labour shortage to be declared, we require evidence of harvest predictions as well as evidence there'll be increased labour demand. Predictions will become clearer in the next few months as the harvest season approaches.''


By the numbers
* Kiwifruit is New Zealand's largest horticultural export.

* New Zealand kiwifruit production is expected to jump from 123 million trays in 2017 to 190 million trays in 2027.

* The kiwifruit industry's revenue is expected to jump from $2.1 billion in 2017 to $6 billion by 2030.

* A critical labour shortage could hinder growth.

* In comparison to 2017 numbers, the kiwifruit industry will require an additional 7000 workers by 2027.

* In 2017 when the minimum wage was $15.75, the average wage for picking kiwifruit was $20.95.


* The expected picking rate in 2019 is $23.50.