By Eric Frykberg of RNZ
Workers are moving to the farming sector as urban jobs dry up.
The Covid-19 crisis has caused work to slow to a trickle or even stop completely as workers and customers remain in lockdown, and in some cases people's earnings disappear.
The once-humming tourism industry is especially vulnerable - visitor numbers of 3,889,509 in the year to November have shrunk to zero because of Covid-19.
However, horticulture is designated as an essential service as a food producer for domestic and foreign mouths, and people thrown out of work by Covid-19 are now finding jobs among the fruit trees.
Usually, the industry finds it hard to attract workers to harvest summer and autumn fruit crops.
"But [harvesting jobs are]a lifeline for a number of redeployed workers from industries such as tourism, forestry and hospitality," Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said.
His office said some kiwifruit businesses now had a workforce of more than 90 per cent New Zealanders, compared with about 50 per cent last season.
The pipfruit industry had placed about 200 workers from other industries across the country.
"It is great to see Kiwis taking up the opportunity to be part of this essential industry," O'Connor said.
"Now is a peak time for picking apples and kiwifruit. Workers are in high demand and about 20,000 are needed at the peak of the harvest."
Gisborne orchardist Natalya Egan has not been able to get her usual backpackers to help pick this season, but half a dozen unemployed locals have stepped in.
They include people from the hospitality industry as well as a painter who is also an up-and-coming rugby player.
"They are helping us get in the harvest, which would otherwise have been a challenge, and we are grateful," Egan said.