The kiwifruit industry is appealing for more New Zealanders to put their hands up for work as the sector continues to boom and the borders remain closed.
Estimations show about 14,500 people are working on kiwifruit orchards in the Bay of Plenty now and when the harvest kicks off next year that number would increase to 20,000 - with more jobs up for grabs.
But concerns about migrant workers on the Recognised Seasonal Employer not being allowed into the country due to border restrictions has prompted discussions with industry leaders and the Government.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said kiwifruit workers were currently bud thinning, pruning vines, thinning fruit and girdling.
Kiwis made up the majority of the seasonal workforce and more had taken up opportunities however it would like to see that number increase.
Meanwhile, RSE workers also remained critically important particularly for weekends and night shifts so NZKGI was in ongoing discussions with the Government to see if they could enter the country before the harvest.
''To mitigate risks of fewer than normal RSEs, NZKGI is focused on continuing to recruit as many New Zealanders into the industry as possible.''
''The industry is actively seeking motivated people for long-term roles in the industry and employees showing competency on orchard can quickly take on more skilled roles which then lead on to management roles. As the industry is growing at a rapid pace, such career paths are widely available in the kiwifruit industry.''
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the horticulture industry was critical to the Bay of Plenty's export-reliant economy.
''It is a cornerstone element to our success as a region. Kiwifruit is also a key part of our region's brand recognition for overseas visitors.''
He said we cannot have fruit left to rot on the vines.
''It is critical that we maximise our economic potential, which will benefit a long list of suppliers and contractors who work within the horticulture and logistics industries. The industry employs a lot of people that supports a number of main streets and local suppliers.''
A lot of Kiwis tried the kiwifruit industry during lockdown, but very few stayed longer than a few weeks, he said.
''There are a massive variety of jobs within the industry and it is a great opportunity to grow a new career.
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard said it was surprising but encouraging that such a large number of jobs exist in the Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchards.
''The kiwifruit industry is an important contributor to the Bay of Plenty economy and the primary sector as a whole, is demonstrating a high degree of resilience and is leading the New Zealand economy through the Covid downturn.
''It seems paradoxical that we have almost 5 per cent unemployed across the Bay of Plenty and 6.4 per cent in Rotorua, yet are having difficulty finding local people to carry out the work.''
''Perhaps the sheer size of the numbers needed, and the physical nature of the work, inhibits finding a New Zealand workforce solution.''
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt agreed and said the kiwifruit industry was important to the region.
''It's a very strong export performer and brings a lot of wealth to the area, which has a spillover into the rest of the community.''
Earlier this week the final shipments of this season's kiwifruit left the Port of Tauranga destined for global markets - capping off another strong season.
Chief global supply officer Alastair Hulbert said Zespri used 49 chartered reefer vessels and 17,829 refrigerated containers to ship around 157 million class 1 trays – or 600,000 tonnes of Zespri SunGold, Green and Zespri Red Kiwifruit to consumers in more than 50 countries.
It was the largest harvest on record.
More than 87 million trays of Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit and 70 million trays of Green were exported to customers.
In 2019/20 Zespri had a global operating revenue of $3.36 billion.
Zespri head of communications Michael Fox said the industry was able to provide jobs to many New Zealanders working in Covid-affected industries like hospitality and tourism.
''We're continuing to work closely with NZKGI on ensuring our industry is one that people want to work in.''
Eastpack chief executive Hamish Simson said it employed about 3200 seasonal workers in its packhouses during the peak kiwifruit harvest so the requirement was huge.
He thought there would be sufficient staff to get it through.
More than half were Kiwis and he was hopeful a Government solution would be found regarding RSE workers and backpackers, he said.
An Immigration New Zealand spokesman said RSE workers who were currently outside New Zealand would not be able to travel to New Zealand until border restrictions were lifted.
In September the RSE scheme visas were extended by six months for workers who were still in New Zealand and unable to return home.
''This allows RSE workers with visa expiry dates between August 18 and December 31, 2020 to stay in New Zealand.''
Recent visa changes have also allowed many other temporary visa holders to stay and work in the horticulture and viticulture sector.
About 5900 RSE workers were still in New Zealand from the 2019/20 season, he said.
''Of this number, approximately 1100 are in the Bay of Plenty – the majority of which are working in the kiwifruit industry.''
Ministry for Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said it was committed to supporting the kiwifruit industry and had partnered with them on their recruitment needs.
''We have a year-round approach working with the industry to maximise all opportunities for New Zealanders, including supporting the industry to fund a labour co-ordinator role.
''To address this year's demand, and the disruption to the seasonal labour supply caused by Covid, we are working on a number of strategies and targeting a number of different groups to fill these positions.''
The ministry was also working with a number of kiwifruit employers to promote relevant skills training, along with flexible and innovative employment arrangements to attract different groups of workers.
But it recognised not all Jobseekers were suitable for this type of work.
''It's a physical job with at times long hours, and due to a number of reasons, it may not work for all.''
2021 Harvest Jobs
* Picking on orchards
* For the 2020 harvest, average picking rates were in excess of $23/hour.
* Packhouses include:
* Sorting and grading
* Packing the fruit into trays
* Forklift operation
* Machinery operation
* Packhouse roles involve working shifts of 8-12 hours
* There are roles to suit a variety of people.