Record returns for kiwifruit could go to waste without access to labour, says one industry expert.
Managing director of Origin Capital Partners Dom Jones said the industry had had a "phenomenal season from both a harvest and sales perspective".
Origin Capital Partners is a private equity firm focused on the kiwifruit sector.
Jones told The Country's Jamie Mackay: "We've got record crops and the international markets are really hungry for our products."
However, when it came to finding workers, it had been "a brutal few months" – and the situation was getting worse, Jones said.
"We simply don't have enough people."
According to Jones, the average pay in kiwifruit packhouses in 2021 was 33 per cent higher than two years ago - yet despite this, "we had a turnout rate of only 78 per cent capacity".
This had a huge impact on the industry, Jones said.
"If you don't pick it and pack it on time you have substantial fruit loss and you have a huge loss of revenue."
The most common reason why increased pay hadn't helped the attendance rate was staff said they could make more money working fewer hours than in previous years, Jones said.
This year RSE workers made up 13 per cent of staff, and a further 20 per cent were on holiday visas.
Jones didn't hold out much hope for retaining "anything close to those numbers" for next year.
"Throughout the harvest season we have a need for about 33,000 labour units and our best estimate is that we will be seven and a half thousand short next year."
Jones acknowledged the labour shortage wasn't just a kiwifruit or agricultural issue.
"In Q2, so March through June this year, we had the largest increase since 2011 in job vacancies. There are currently 80,000 vacancies advertised. In the same quarter there was a 29 per cent decrease in applications for jobs."
"The fact is, there are just not enough people to fill these roles and it's constraining our country's growth."
As a result, the kiwifruit sector, like others, was "really frustrated at the lack of engagement from government," Jones said.
"There doesn't seem to be any clear statement as to how the government can work with these industries to try and solve what is a very clear issue."
The economic cost to New Zealand was "huge".
"There's a massive opportunity cost across all sectors. The lack of labour is constraining economic growth. Expansion plans are being put on hold and no one can answer the question of how to service the volume.
"I mean this is insanity. Growth is the only way out of our country's economic hole and it's being hugely hamstrung."
Also in today's interview: Jones talked about the mental health toll of the worker shortage and discussed record prices for Gold 3 kiwifruit licences.