If Jacinda Ardern can't solve Hawke's Bay's labour shortage, perhaps the region's students can.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn't announce any major new salves for the industry during a visit in Havelock North on Thursday, as growers across the region continue to struggle to find enough workers to pick a bumper 2021 crop.
But an idea from Hastings District councillor Malcolm Dixon to engage a student army during the school holidays is starting to gaining traction.
Ardern was at Askerne Estate Winery for a Food and Fibre Leaders meeting, accompanied by Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor among others.
When asked what more the Government could do to help with the seasonal worker shortage over the remaining months of the harvest season, Ardern said it would continue to support the industry in its "extraordinary efforts" to stop any crop being wasted.
"The fact that we've taken the approach we have to Covid has had some benefit to the sector as well, even if one of the byproducts has been labour shortages."
Ardern said the 2000 RSE workers her government brought into the country filled a significant proportion of New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine facilities at the border, showing recognition of the shortage as an issue.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that Ministry of Social Development incentives to make relocating for seasonal work easier, with lump sum payments and accommodation benefits, have not prompted many people to move because the short-term nature of the work makes it hard to leave family and existing accommodation situations behind.
She also acknowledged the challenges of ensuring the workforce do not all end up with the bigger corporate growers, but said there had been cooperation and collaboration across the industry too.
"We have really relied on the sectors working together to make sure they are spreading the workforce around," Ardern said.
Mr Yummy apple grower and owner Paul Paynter said this week that Hawke's Bay is in need of thousands more pickers for what would be a "difficult" harvest season.
"We are not going to get all the crop in. I'm concerned about how the numbers stack up."
O'Connor said the horticulture industry showed resilience last year in a Covid-impacted environment, and they are doing the same again.
"Yes, it will be tough for some of the smaller growers, but I've spoken to them, and I think we'll get through this."
Dixon said they are set to get help from Hawke's Bay secondary school students.
The Hastings councillor said he was inspired by the tertiary and secondary school students of Christchurch rallying to form the Student Volunteer Army after the Canterbury earthquake in 2011.
"I thought gee whiz, the horticulture industry here is in strife, nowhere as big as Christchurch was, but we could do something similar here if everyone helped out wherever they could."
Discussions with the horticulture industry and secondary school principals were held about what students over 16 years old could do to support growers with their labour outside of school hours.
"Some of them may well end up with two or three hours in a packhouse after school ... a number of them may end up picking at the weekends in particular," Dixon said, adding work is set to ramp up in the school holidays at the end of April.
He said at $20 an hour the work would make good money for students going on to university or polytechnics, plus give them a foot in the door of the apple industry.
"As long as everyone's prepared to be flexible, and I'm sure they will be, it has got great potential for all concerned."