A local orchardist says apple growers are pulling up their crops in labour shortage "fear" ahead of harvest.
Blocks of trees near Meeanee were photographed being dug out on Thursday this week.
Yummy Apples general manager Paul Paynter said he has never seen trees being cut down in full leaf like that before.
"There's fear in the air," he said, noting it makes sense given it costs about $9 per box to get apples to harvest.
"If you've got 100,000 boxes sitting out there you don't think you're going to pick, before you know it you're a million dollars in the hole.
"They're not good decisions for New Zealand, but they're good decisions for businesses to survive."
Yummy have had to cut several blocks themselves this year with uncertainty over the size of the seasonal workforce, and Paynter said although it isn't happening everywhere, growers are worried.
"People are very fearful, the current position is maybe they'll let [Regional Seasonal Employment, or RSE] workers in but they'll have to quarantine for 14 days and we don't have the facilities to get last year's number of 16,000 people into New Zealand," he said.
"Nobody is really confident that enough is going to happen to allow us to harvest the crop."
The industry and government ministries are teaming up with plenty of initiatives to try to maximise a local workforce.
"Everybody is pulling all those levers, but there's no way it's going to be enough," Paynter said.
And even if they can attract massive numbers of workers to Hawke's Bay from outside the region, he said the big crisis will be finding a place for them all to sleep.
"It's tight out there, there's so much accommodation tied up with emergency housing that there are not enough beds in Hawke's Bay to get the job done."
Across the growing industry, seasonal workers have tended to come from three roughly even sources – locals, working holiday makers on temporary visas and RSE workers.
Massey University sociology professor Paul Spoonley, who also owns an orchard on St Georges Rd, said he wasn't anticipating any of those temporary visa workers, but would be very surprised if more RSE workers didn't come in to the country, albeit in far fewer numbers than last year.
"We've gone from the year with the highest number of arrivals, both temporary and permanent, to literally zero," Spoonley said.
"The Government will begin to open up the borders for workers, but they're going to have to prioritise."
With limited space available in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, they will have to choose who to allocate places to.
"I think the permanents are probably going to get a tick, but we also have a short-term crisis on our hands in terms of picking and processing this year's crop, so I'm sure there's going to be some leeway," Spoonley said.
"We have a major dilemma on our hands – how much do we open up borders in order to continue doing what we do in the New Zealand economy, thereby increasing the risk. At the moment, the major risk we have in terms of Covid-19 is what comes across the border."
He said the reliance on temporary workers from overseas has been a growing issue for some time, and now the industry has to work out how to incentivise locals.
"That's not easy, already we've got the arguments about pay, about conditions, about the short-term nature," Spoonley said, mentioning technology and automation as the probable long-term solution.