The thousands of boxes lined up outside Yummy Apples' Karamu Rd orchard tell their own story about the work, and the number of workers that will be needed soon.

By the end of the picking season, general manager Paul Paynter hopes to have those boxes filled with 25,000 tonnes of fruit.

The horticultural industry in Hawke's Bay say it expects to harvest 30,000 more tonnes of fruit this year than last, as long as they can find the pickers.

Yet growers feel the current system feels decidedly like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

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They want to see a proactive, not reactive response, to the predicted worker shortage.

"The problem is the information the Ministry of Social Development is asking for is 'what people do you need now?'," Paynter says.

"They really need to understand what our requirements are for the whole season.

"We haven't got a crisis now, the crisis we're talking about is going to be around the end of March."

He said declaring a labour shortage early gives tourists, who are allowed to work in areas of shortage as a result, the chance to plan in advance.

Last year when a labour shortage was declared in Hawke's Bay, only 14 tourists took the opportunity to pick apples.

"They've got their plans organised, they really need a bit of notice.

"It needs to be signalled ahead of time."

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MSD's East Coast Regional Commissioner Annie Aranui said they were working with the industry to prepare for the harvest.

"Our regional labour team actively engages with key industry partners, growers and other government officials throughout the year.

"Whilst looking to help meet seasonal labour needs we have collective focus on supporting New Zealanders into sustainable employment opportunities available in the industry."

She said coping with a challenging labour environment like seasonal work had been a reoccurring problem for several years.

"The industry has the primary responsibility for finding workers and developing a future sustainable workforce.

"We acknowledge the efforts that industry has made to meet their labour requirements over the past year.

"We are seeing better workforce planning, an increased focus on training and qualifications, the sharing of best practice and more seasonal employment co-ordinators on the ground."