A Hawke's Bay fruit grower says declaring a seasonal labour shortage has provided a "trickle" of workers, but not the "flood" they need.

General manager of Yummy Apples, Paul Paynter, said they had a few tourists through their doors interested in picking fruit, but it took about 10 days for the correct visa changes to be made, meaning none had started yet.

Paynter said, at this point, if someone walked through the doors with two arms and two legs he would offer them a job.

"We've certainly had a few inquiries ... it'll give a trickle of people, but it's not the flood we need."

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He said over the past week they had lost staff as 29 students returned to university.

"We've struggled to replace that number."

He said the apple harvest comes in two waves, the first wave is royal galas, which are being picked at the moment and then in March-April there is a bigger wave as the late variety apples are picked, which makes up about 60 per cent of Paynter's crop.

Paul Paynter says he now has fewer employees than he did when the seasonal labour shortage began. Photo / File
Paul Paynter says he now has fewer employees than he did when the seasonal labour shortage began. Photo / File

"That's the window we will have real trouble.

"Last week of March, first week of April, second week of April, those three weeks are going to be very challenging."

He hoped that now a labour shortage has been declared, tourists who were not yet in the country would plan ahead.

"I don't think they can apply for it before they arrive ... but hopefully there will be a trickle of people from that."

He thought they would have made it through the first phase of the harvest a bit more comfortably than they had.

However, the cold weather was a nice bonus, as apples mature slower in cold weather compared to the recent warm temperatures, giving growers a bit of time to sort out staffing issues.

The rain also meant people who had been working irrigating the fruit could be diverted back to picking.

He said New Zealand needed a better system for covering seasonal labour than hoping migrants and tourists were going to turn up to pick the apples.

"We need, probably, a more strategic and structured approach."

The Ministry of Social Development declared a seasonal labour shortage on February 15, and it officially began on February 25.

Immigration New Zealand did not have data around how many tourists had applied at this stage, but expected to have a better idea early next week.