The Government is warning that although it is looking at ways of increasing the number of seasonal workers from the Pacific next year, they won't be at pre-Covid-19 levels.
Hawke's Bay orchardists on Wednesday called a "crisis" press conference, begging the Government to open a travel bubble with the Pacific islands before the 2022 season.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said they were looking at what options were available to bring in more Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers for the 2021/22 season, including the possibility of a Pacific bubble, however the numbers would be "limited", he said.
"We have not set possible RSE numbers for next season.
"We have made clear to sector representatives that, under current Covid constraints, even with quarantine-free travel with Australia, it is still unlikely that we will be able to bring in the sort of RSE worker numbers next season that were able to come here pre-Covid-19."
Faafoi said he appreciated the sector's importance to the economy and would continue to engage with horticulture and wine sector representatives around workforce needs.
"Working with them in the past has meant we have been able to bring in over 2000 experienced seasonal workers from Pacific countries [in 2021] – the single biggest economic-based class border exception to date."
He said changes had also been made to Working Holiday Visas and Supplementary Seasonal Employer scheme visas to allow flexibility for workers to help with this summer's harvests.
Hawke's Bay apple grower John Bostock said the worker shortage this season had been "devastating" and they needed a plan for next year, now.
With about a month left of picking, he said, "this season is done and what's happened has happened".
He said there would be "real consequences", not just for the horticulture sector but for other industries too, if the worker shortage continued next season.
"Because there's a shortage, it's effecting all industries. [It's] too extreme."
Normally there would be up to 14,410 RSE workers, this season there were only about 4000 to 5000 remaining from last season, he said.
He said next season's RSE workers would need to arrive by October.
"We need a plan for next season and we need it as soon as possible."
Answers now would allow them to make decisions about which trees to pull out, what crops to plant and what infrastructure to invest in, he said.