Berries are being left to rot on vines across Hawke's Bay farms as the labour shortage turns into a "crisis".
But those invested in it say the region's small-producer nature could be its one saving grace.
When Dianne Charlton first started in the boysenberry industry almost 40 years ago, there were three farms along Tollemache Rd alone - now she wonders whether there'll be more than four in the whole region as labour shortages continue to bite.
"It is a crisis."
The worker shortage was attributed as the reason for one of the country's largest strawberry farms, Auckland's Perry's Berrys, closing this week.
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said the labour shortage would continue until recognised seasonal workers (RSE) were exempted from managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) measures.
The RSE shortage was having flow-on effects for other parts of the horticulture sector, Chapman said.
Charlton's The Berry Farm normally relies on a mix of locals and overseas backpackers to pick their mix of boysenberries and raspberries, but this year had struggled to find enough workers.
Many of her regular Kiwi pickers had taken jobs in the packhouses, the autumn berry harvest unfortunately coinciding with the apple and vineyard harvest time, she said.
The labour shortage also meant some employees felt as if they could get away with more, knowing their jobs were secure because producers were desperate, Charlton said.
She said people didn't see berry picking as long-term employment, and some still saw it as a "hobby industry" rather than a business.
With the shift from picking every three days to picking just once a week, she said, fruit is being left to rot on the ground.
"We are behind because we can't get pickers. It just breaks your heart."
Rhonda Hapi-Smith, a first-time picker who lives just down the road, she found it equally heartbreaking.
"I love berries - each one is a little bit of gold."
After 20 years in corrections and management work, she enjoyed the chance to just be outside.
Picking berries was not as strenuous as picking heavier apples and pears, she said.
There was pressure to get it all in, particularly when wet weather threatened a crop.
"You want to provide the produce and people expect it to be there."
She found it hard knowing how much work went into growing the produce and seeing so much of it go to waste.
Julie Maurenbrecher of Blackcat Berries, a "very small, artisan berry orchard" in Hastings, felt as if she had dodged a bullet in the lead-up to this year's harvest.
Even though her business didn't rely on overseas pickers, requiring only six RSE workers, she was nervous going into the Christmas harvest, instead taking on 21 students.
"I'm small enough that I could cope."
Concerns about labour shortages saw her get out of the apple industry a few years ago.
"Over the years we've gotten smaller and smaller because we don't want to rely on overseas labour."
She felt the situation had been "handled very badly" and many in the horticulture sector were at a crisis point, especially strawberry growers and apple orchardists.
"When strawberries bolt, they bolt and are very difficult.
"I am feeling for them big time."
With more and more corporate-style horticulture investment in Hawke's Bay, she said if a grower couldn't pick with its own labour force then it was probably "too big".
Maree Tucker, of The Strawberry Patch in Havelock North, felt equally thankful they were a smaller grower.
"We strictly stock the shop and I don't want that to change."
She said they were lucky not to have to rely on RSE workers and they had used the same pickers since the business started.
"I do feel quite sorry for Perry's.
"Obviously they rely on those people and they weren't available.
"It's quite sad."