A Whanganui forestry contractor is working with Immigration New Zealand and Ministry for Social Development to help find the staff he needs to plant 2000 hectares in pines, redwoods and manuka this winter after the Covid-19 shutdown left 30 staff stranded in Fiji.
Blinkhorne & Carroll Ltd is a agricultural and forestry contractor and had work agreed before the coronavirus hit.
Director Patrick Carroll said a group of 12 trainers and 20 staff were stuck in Fiji.
Carroll has just over 30 of the 60 staff he needs and is working with the agencies to get the workers to New Zealand before planting season.
Carroll said he may be able to "poach" some planters from up north, where drought could make the soil too dry for planting this winter.
While there will be thousands of unemployed people in New Zealand, he believed many could not handle the tough life of a forest planter.
They are away from home for a week at a time doing hard physical work and they will be drug tested. Planters can make $1000 a week.
Carroll said he needed his experienced staff back from Fiji to train the new planters.
"You can't just put 30 people on the hill and expect them to plant a forest. It would be total carnage."
He said planting work was also a "breeding ground" for other forestry jobs, and created a useful toughness.
'It's looking after our soils' - Award-winning Rangitikei farmer
Mayors hoping for green lights for spade-ready projects
Forestry project to beautify SH4 entrance to Whanganui
The Government's one billion trees initiative has made the business extra busy - scrubcutting, thinning and pruning in summer and planting in winter. Last winter staff peaked at 53. This year it needs more.
It has contracts with Comvita to plant high-performing manuka on Manawaimai Station in the Whangaehu Valley and on land near Lake Waikaremoana. Another contract is with NZForestry, to plant redwoods near Whanganmomona, and there are pines to be planted in the Hunterville area.
This year the company's planting will be 10 per cent redwoods, 40 per cent manuka and the rest pines.