The Government yesterday declared a an official labour shortage across Hawke's Bay's booming pipfruit industry as it heads towards a "short and sharp" bumper season.

The peak apple picking season will last just 21 days and is due to start next week for some growers.

Willowford Alma Alta Orchards owner Phil Greer said yesterday's declaration of a regional labour shortage had come at just the right time.

"From our point of view, we can't get locals to pick apples so we use backpackers.


"We are getting less backpackers now, for some reason - I don't know if they are travelling less or they are going into other jobs - and we can also use overseas RSEs (Recognised Seasonal Employers).

"We're actually using a gang from Vanuatu when we get busy.

"So, we get by - but you'd say 'just'."

Normally, the orchard produced about 100,000 cartons of fruit annually at 18kg a carton.

"We have very good picking here and the varieties we have fall into a bit of a gap, our main varieties. The pressure will come on when there are many varieties that are ready at once.

"It's quite tricky because you need a lot of people for a relatively short period.

"People don't realise how hard it is for us to get these things off. We have to use anyone we can, free up anyone we can. It's quite vulnerable relying on backpackers for example. Also, it's hard work and some people just can't handle it.

"The industry definitely needs a boost of labour, the next month is absolutely critical."


Anyone wanting to work in orchards they can registered with the labour team at PickNZ's Hastings office in Stortford Lodge, which will be open daily. From there, the team would match them to a job so they could start as soon as possible.