The Government wants one billion trees planted across the country by 2028. It has allocated $120 million for grants for landowners to plant new areas and $58m to set up Te Uru Rākau forestry service premises in Rotorua. Across the country, 80m trees are expected to be planted this season. However, Bay of Plenty and Taupō contractors are facing an uphill battle to get trees in the ground. Reporter Sam Olley investigates.
CNI Forest Management has 100 planters working in the wider Bay of Plenty and Taupō this season but it's not enough and the company is struggling to find workers now more than ever before.
Director Stewart Hyde told the Rotorua Daily Post the company started recruiting six weeks before the start of May when planting began, but "we just can't get enough people".
"It's having a drastic effect."
He admitted planting involved hard work, early starts and all sorts of weather but there was good money in it.
"The minimum wage we pay is $22.12 an hour, about the living wage. That's for someone off the streets and who has no training and has never planted before. We are willing to give anyone a go."
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He has been in the industry 50 years and said recruiting had never been so hard.
"We used to have hundreds putting their hands up. We are doing everything we can to do get people on board and are working closely with Work and Income."
Hyde welcomed female workers and CNI started a specific "women's gang" three months ago.
The biggest concern for him was that unemployment in the Bay of Plenty and Taupō area was higher than most areas of New Zealand, yet he couldn't find staff.
"In my opinion, that means it's not looking good for One Billion Trees."
Dean Anderson has about 12 planters working around Kāingaroa and Rotorua this season but one day last week only five turned up.
"The weather was cold and wet, which made it more challenging."
He began to notice a shortage of tree planters last year and said it was unfortunate when the amount of work was on the rise.
Anderson said finding drug-free workers and maintaining them was also difficult.
"There are also industries that pay the same, for different work. We can only pay so much to be profitable in this situation."
Selective Silviculture owner Mark Anderson has 10 planters but would ideally have another five working between Taupō, Mangakino and Kawerau.
"It has been an ongoing problem, it has slowly been harder to get people in the last few years."
He said if contractors were paid more by the forest owners it would help them recruit more staff.
Blakely Pacific has forests all over the country, including 100ha in the Bay of Plenty, mostly on Matakana Island.
Managing director Phil Taylor said the company wasn't noticing a staffing shortage in the Bay of Plenty yet, thanks to good contractors and strong relationships.
"But we are aware of it in the wider industry, and we are concerned. New Zealand's harvest has increased significantly in the past five years, which means replanting more trees. Yet the supply of well trained and motivated people has reduced."
He said the company planned to increase its harvest and planting programme significantly in the wider Tauranga area in coming years, so it would keep a close eye on the issue.
PF Olsen chief executive Te Kapunga Dewes said he had heard of planting labour shortages in regional pockets, but had not experienced it.
He said the forest management company's planting programme was up 70 per cent this year.
"We are tight but not short because we did see it coming. We started planning for this in October last year."
PF Olsen normally plants 8000ha to 9000ha of trees across the country, but this year it is tracking for 15,000, including about 3500ha in the Bay of Plenty.
Nationally about 12 million trees will be planted and about 15 per cent will be native species, mostly mānuka.
Nationally, more than 125 Ministry for Social Development clients have been placed in planting jobs in the past year.
In a press release, Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said the Government was "committed to ensuring more clients have access to opportunities in the industry through this targeted tree planting initiative".
Minister of Forestry Shane Jones said it was also about upskilling rangatahi and supporting them to contribute to a trained, safe workforce in planting, thinning, pruning and harvesting.