Recruiting New Zealanders into seasonal kiwifruit jobs is a top priority as the industry grapples to fill thousands of positions amid a labour shortage and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Twenty-five per cent of the industry's workforce have international working visas, so stricter measures at the border to combat the spread of Covid-19 are expected to have a significant impact on recruitment.
The sector is also looking to offer job opportunities to forestry workers who were already reeling from a downturn and job losses as a result of the pandemic.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said a large proportion of seasonal workers would be needed in the Bay of Plenty as more than 80 per cent of the harvest was picked and packed here.
Last year NZKGI ran a campaign to attract employees and has taken proactive steps to mitigate the likely labour risk, she said.
''We will be communicating on the steps which will be taken over the coming weeks.''
In 2019 it was estimated there was a shortfall of about 3500 workers despite the Government declaring a labour shortage which enabled 477 visitors to work without a working visa.
The vast majority of the kiwifruit seasonal workforce was made up of New Zealanders which was the industry's first priority in terms of recruitment, she said.
The second-largest group after this are those with Working Holiday Visas which make up about 25 per cent of the workforce.
Johnson said if some of its international seasonal workers could not travel to New Zealand it would have an impact.
''NZKGI is monitoring the situation seriously and we will have a more accurate view over the next few weeks as the picking and packing increases.
''The extent of the number of cases of coronavirus in New Zealand and the potential impact that this could have on disrupting regular processes through measures to limit the spread of the outbreak will obviously play a large role in determining the impact on the kiwifruit industry.''
NZKGI has been in conversations with forestry organisations to ascertain if there was the ability to provide opportunities to forestry employees while there is a lull in wood exports, she said.
Other initiatives included recruiting New Zealand workers who were located close to orchards and packhouses in order to reduce the pressure on transport and accommodation as well as supporting industry endeavours to build accommodation.
Prior to the new travel restrictions, Ministry for Social Development regional manager Mike Bryant said last season about 1500 people from the Bay of Plenty went into work in the kiwifruit sector.
''During peak season packhouses run 24-hour per day shifts and the work can be demanding. It needs to be recognised that not all job seekers are suitable for this type of work – it's a physical job with long hours, and due to ill health, childcare, and accommodation availability, it may not work for all.''
For a number of communities, it also provided, in partnership with the employer, minibuses to transport people to the job opportunities for the season, he said.
Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the kiwifruit industry was one of the region's largest employers and supported a wide variety of local businesses.
''The kiwifruit sector helps small businesses as a range of sole traders, technicians, and logistics companies benefit from working with the prosperous industry.
''The industry employs a wide variety of roles, including some great paying roles. Many people who are now in those high-paying roles first started in fruit picking. It is a fulfilling industry that keeps growing, and it is on the cutting edge of precision and robotic technology.''
But there were challenges for the temporary workforce including transport and housing options that are close to orchards.
''Local growers have been a key part of the discussions with the local council and it appears to be progressing well. The local business associations of Te Puke Edge and Katch Katikati are doing a great job at keeping the topic high on the agenda.''
Eastpack chief executive Hamish Simson said it would need about 3200 seasonal workers across six sites.
This weekend the company expected its six sites would start running two, 10-hour shifts a day.
''We are literally pulling in thousands of people in the next one to two days.''
Simson said they were slightly behind on the number of employees it had hired at the same time last year.
But that was due to the kiwifruit coming on earlier than previous seasons and the fact some of its seasonal staff were still working in the apple industry.
Asked if he was concerned about recruiting enough employees to cover those shifts, he said, ''Not yet''.
This year's crop was forecast to be well up from the 147 million trays exported in 2019.