The week after Easter is crunch time for the kiwifruit industry and others relying on wooden pallets and cardboard packaging.
• Kiwifruit pack houses gear up for season and coronavirus threat
Wooden pallet manufacturers and pulp mills are Essential Services but the sawmills that supply the wood and woodchips they need to operate are not.
While pulp mills are okay for chip for another week, many wooden pallet producers are crying out to be re-stocked with key product lines from the sawmills as they come toward the peak of the Kiwifruit season.
Wooden pallets are used to stack cardboard boxes of produce so they can be transported to ports and supermarkets around the country.
As the pallet shortage starts to bite in the next week or so, fruit may start building up in packhouses and cool stores. At some stage in the coming days if a solution can't be found that flow of fruit from packhouses to ports and supermarkets may need to be turned off.
Our $2 billion export kiwifruit industry could come to a grinding halt right at the peak of the season. And right when New Zealand needs every export dollar it can get its hands on.
Other industries relying on wooden pallets and cardboard packaging produced from the feedstock of the country's major pulp mill will be equally affected. These include many FMCG companies supplying the supermarkets, as well as pharmaceuticals, honey producers and other horticulture crops in the fruit bowls of Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty.
Alan Walters of Timpack is one such pallet manufacturer and is also the President of the Wooden Pallet & Container Association. He describes the supply situation as "critical" and has written to Ministers Jones and Robertson to "strongly request that the Government allow sawmills and their supply chains back in operation immediately after Easter, or earlier."
Adding to Mr Walters' frustration was receiving an email from MBIE's Essential Services division authorising sawmills to operate to supply Essential Services, only to hear on Thursday that the mills had been told otherwise.
The decision to reopen a select few sawmills seems to be caught up in a decision gridlock, somewhere between Cabinet, the Ministry of Health, MBIE and MPI.
MPI for its part is doing what it can. Last week it allowed sawmills to send staff back in to process timber that had been sawn from logs but not yet ready for dispatch. That kept pallet manufacturers going for a few days, but fresh cutting of logs is now required, and for some reason that falls into the domain of the Ministry of Health.
The irony is that at the country's largest sawmill Red Stag Timber, those same staff MPI has allowed back to operate a planer mill line cannot walk two hundred metres and turn on the sawmill line. For some reason logs cannot be processed, but sawn lumber can, even though the logs are also already on site.
Surely, with all it has to deal with, the Ministry of Health can trust and delegate decision-making in this area MPI?
One can only sympathise with the government departments having to handle the pandemic and the barrage of requests by businesses to be considered 'Essential'. However, over Easter the Cabinet is going to have to make a decision. Trust MPI, or choke-off Essential industries and their supply to supermarkets and export markets.
Marty Verry is group CEO of the Red Stag group of companies in the wood processing, forestry, prefabrication and property development sector.