With Hawke's Bay facing a bumper pip fruit season, the Ministry of Social Development has declared a seasonal labour shortage across the region but that still leaves growers with just one week to find hundreds of extra pickers.

MSD East Coast regional commissioner Annie Aranui said the declaration, which would run from March 12 to April 6, meant people in New Zealand on visitor permits could also apply for Hawke's Bay picking roles without having a work visa.

However, Bostock labour development manager Vikki Garrett said the effectiveness of the process remained to be seen.

"It's great, but for us it would have been great if it had been while we were doing the Royal Gala, as we had next to no labour to pull the Royal Gala off."

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Earlier this month, a lack of pickers meant about 200 apples a day were being left unpicked.

"However, it has come at just the right time for the next wave of picking, which is for the Braeburn and Fuji, which starts at the end of next week.

"It will be interesting to see though, how many people will change their visa to a seasonal work visa. We have no idea how many people are out there are that can do that, that want to do that."

Peak picking season is expected to start in the next few weeks and expected to last 21 days.

During that time it was forecast that 14 million cartons of apples would be packed this year - 1.3 million more than last year.

Aranui said MSD continued to support the industry and was running specialised seminars to identify and refer jobseekers to vacancies.

New Zealand Apples and Pears supported the Labour Shortage Declaration.

A major job recruitment drive across the region, including a public campaign by NZ Apples and Pears, Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association and PickNZ, had provided modest numbers of workers who have been immediately placed into suitable work.

Employment Minister Willie Jackson said the announcement was a clear sign of the government working with industry.

"Where an industry so important to this region has a clear and immediate need, we need to back them. That is a natural part of us working closely together, supporting each other.

"With a scant three weeks to pick and pack an extra 2 million cases of fruit, the industry needs many more hands to the pump.

"Work and Income will provided all the people it can to help, but with orchards needing 400 extra people than expected, it has decided to declare a temporary Labour Market Shortage."

Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association president Lesley Wilson said yesterday's announcement was "really welcome".

"We've done pretty much all we can to entice labour to Hawke's Bay and there are not just the people out there at the moment.

"We have 3000 fewer unemployed and fewer backpackers coming to Hawke's Bay, so our labour usually comes from Kiwis and RSEs (Recognised Seasonal Employers) and our backpackers - and we've lost two out of three."

Growers in Hawke's Bay are desperately short of fruit pickers. Photo / Duncan Brown
Growers in Hawke's Bay are desperately short of fruit pickers. Photo / Duncan Brown

National Party horticulture spokesman and Tukituki MP Lawrence Yule said the issue would become an even great issue in the future.

"I think the question here is actually, we are going to have to dramatically lift - and re-consider how we use RSE workers.

"The level of production, particularly in pipfruit is exponentially increasing and if we have this problem this year, it's only going to get way, way worse."

Yule said with a low unemployment rate and a "booming" industry it was time to consider RSE as part of the production system.

Hawke's Bay Season Labour Group chairman Gary Jones said the strong Hawke's Bay economy, and low unemployment, meant the industry had to compete for workers.

Although about 25 prisoners were working in the industry, completing day-release community work - there was no suggestion that greater numbers of prisoners would be releases into the region's orchards than usual.

"Through the declaration we have had a little bit of interest coming from people on visitor visas looking into how they apply for a variation of conditions."