The lack of overseas workers has the kiwifruit industry calling for more than 14,500 workers to help with summer pruning.
The kiwifruit industry's global revenue is expected to jump from more than $2 billion in 2017 to $6b by 2030 but a critical labour shortage could hinder this growth, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) believes.
Chief executive Nikki Johnson said this year had brought opportunities for New Zealanders to work in the industry as it grew and border closures meant there were fewer overseas visitors with working holiday visas.
She said more than 14,500 workers were needed.
"The work available on kiwifruit orchards over the coming months is a win-win solution for both the industry and job seekers.
"The number of job seekers in the Bay of Plenty has increased substantially since the onset of Covid-19 and we welcome them to join our booming industry."
Throughout October, people are needed to thin flower buds on kiwifruit vines.
People with the right skills are also required for trunk girdling. Girdling and bud thinning continues in November and December and more people are needed for vine pruning and fruit thinning.
In 2019 the kiwifruit industry was worth more than $1.5b in the Bay of Plenty and the 14,500 people required for the peak of summer work in the region is not far off the almost 20,000 people needed at the peak of the kiwifruit harvest.
Manjinder Singh of Kang Enterprises Limited said he needed roughly 20 workers.
"We're used to having a high turnover of employees in the industry, but don't really have an issue with the quantity, it was usually the quality, but this year it is the quantity as well.
"Personally we haven't seen much of a demand from locals as we expected, due to the unemployment created by Covid. We did have a spike when we were picking and Covid was just new but not now.
"Despite the fact that people have lost their jobs, they are still pretty picky."
He said the mood in the industry was one of confusion.
"Once summer pruning starts for everyone in the next two weeks that's when we will find out what the real deal is and if we really are going to struggle."
Cultivate director Adam Alexander believed the problem was not the shortage of workers but the struggle to retain them.
He said in his opinion: "We [the kiwifruit industry] tend to treat them [workers] pretty piss poorly, our industry is pretty ugly when it comes to staff, their wages, welfare and treatment.
"The problem is staff members come into the industry for a week then say 'bugger this for minimum wage, I'd rather work in a factory or hospitality'."
But paying workers even $1 more was a catch-22, Alexander said, as a lot of money was spent training unskilled staff.
"In this sort of environment, the employers that are good employers who treat them well and give them meaningful work and purpose in their work will be the ones who come out so much better than others."
Pāpāmoa kiwifruit grower Rob Thode described the situation as a disaster and said he had found New Zealanders did not want to work outside.
He did not know how the industry would survive without workers from the Pacific Islands.
"There are New Zealanders who work really well on orchards and then there are most people who aren't interested in the work. They're not used to doing any kind of physical work."
He believed opening the border to migrant workers was the only option for an economy reliant on agriculture.
Arthouse Backpacker owner Memphis Robson-Frentz agreed and said it would benefit her business and those living in the islands.
"RSE [seasonal] workers come in, they're grateful for the work and they hit the ground running.
"They're here for the time that they're here and the money they make they take back to the families."
This time last year Robson-Frentz was booked through summer due to kiwifruit workers - this year is a different story.
"There are definitely Kiwis mobilising but by far the bulk is migrant workers."
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the ministry was "committed to supporting the kiwifruit industry". It was working to fill 302 kiwifruit jobs and had supported 1500 people from the Bay of Plenty into work in the sector last season.
"Thousands of our clients fill seasonal roles in regions every year. It provides a great opportunity for people wanting to get back into the workforce and we are utilising our strong local relationships to respond to the current employment landscape."
He said ministry data showed around 1202 people were needed to fill jobs in the kiwifruit industry and in order to address demand, it was working with the industry to target groups to fill positions.
"We are 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.
"This, along with a mixture of tried and new approaches, will be needed to ensure the industry has another successful year."
A new NZKGI-led, initiative is about to start, encouraging job-seekers to take up employment in the kiwifruit industry.
The Ministry for Primary Industries is investing $130,000 in the initiative.
NZKGI education co-ordinator Di Holloway said the kiwifruit industry needed a workforce of more than 17,000 people in November.
"We're offering potential employees the opportunity to see if summer work on orchards is something for them and offer further training to those interested.
"This opportunity may be of interest to those who have recently lost their jobs due to Covid-19, or those seeking a career change."
A one-day taster course will give job seekers an insight into the nature of kiwifruit orchard work, which can be physically demanding.
"The one-day course will offer both the theory and practical aspects of summer canopy management. The first part of the day is in a classroom, followed by a practical demonstration on an orchard."
A two-day training course will be offered to those interested after the one-day taster.
Ministry director of investment, skills and performance Cheyne Gillooly said working in the kiwifruit industry could be rewarding.
"We see enormous value in these types of initiatives in both introducing job seekers to careers they might not have considered, or might have considered and want to learn more.
"Our food and fibres sector continues to play a huge role in New Zealand's recovery from Covid-19."
The first course will begin in mid-October. Register here.
The ministry can provide support with transport to jobs and other costs. People looking for roles in horticulture and viticulture should look on the Work the Seasons website.