Parts of the horticulture sector are considered essential services during the Alert Level 4 lockdown which is presenting a new set of challenges for the industry.

Today on The Country, former president of Horticulture New Zealand Julian Raine spoke to Jamie Mackay about how horticulture is coping with the lockdown, and the issues facing growers during these testing times.

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Mackay: Talk to me about horticulture because this is a real pinch-period for the industry at the moment. We've got the grape harvest, the kiwifruit, any number of crops that are coming off and we just don't appear to have enough people to pick them.

Raine: Yes. Some regions are worse than others. We're fortunate in Nelson where we have started picking apples and when the lockdown came we were only halfway through the crop.

But kiwifruit is only just started in the last 24 hours for us. So anyone that was looking for kiwifruit pickers at the moment, they're the ones that are probably most at risk.

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Mackay: Now I'm sure there's any number of people out there who have lost their job or will lose their job, because we are in incredibly tough times, who would happily go and pick kiwifruit or whatever, but the trouble is you've got to get them to where the kiwifruit is and you've got to accommodate them and still work within the protocols around Covid-19.

Raine: Correct and so I think you'll find that the Bay of Plenty and Northland will be the most at risk and I understand there [are] coordinators operating in both of those regions to help with people who want to do something different - go out and pick a crop of kiwifruit which is actually a great job.

Julian Raine. Photo / Supplied
Julian Raine. Photo / Supplied

Listen below:

Mackay: There's some real issues on the wider horticulture scene with for instance, fruit and vegetable growers. The ones who are lucky enough to be supplying the supermarkets they're quids in - but those who are providing to greengrocers and other people who can't open have a real issue.

Raine:

Yes it is a problem. One that I'm sure can be fixed.

Firstly, about 30 per cent of sellers of fresh fruit and veges in New Zealand are independent. That is ramped-up further in Auckland which is about 50/50 between the two big supermarket chains and the independents.

So if you're a grower and you don't supply the two big supermarket chains, effectively you're outlet is now closed and you've got all of this produce that is still growing and ripening and in some cases past picking. So that is a problem for those growers.

Conversely in the supermarket chains - they're scrambling to put enough produce on the shelves. So I think the Government needs to have a look - a very close and hard look - at some of the independents and whether they could actually open up some targeted independents and make sure they have some well thought through guidelines and then allow them to open.

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Mackay: Personally I'd like to see the greengrocers and the butcher shops open up but I understand the rationale behind trying to limit human contact as much as possible. What about price-wise at the moment? We're hearing that China can't get enough kiwifruit at the moment. There's a demand for healthy food.

Raine: Yes, they are certainly shipping. I think that rolls through to New Zealand as well so the last thing I want to see is people going short of fruit and veg.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

I'd also just like to point out that I've stood in line at my local supermarket to buy vegetables when I could have actually whipped in and whipped out of my local greengrocer shop which is closer.

And you've got sort of 70, 80 year-olds standing in line for half to three quarters of an hour, just to buy themselves a few veggies.

It just doesn't seem logical to me.

Also in today's interview: Raine talked about how he was coping with the continuing drought in Nelson.