The crucial apple picking season in Hawke's Bay is just weeks away and one industry leader believes it could be even worse than last year, which saw the industry suffer through a critical shortage of pickers.
Another apple grower in Hawke's Bay anticipates they will just "scrape through" with the help of RSE workers, but ongoing shipping issues will perhaps prove to be an even greater issue.
New Zealand Fruitgrowers director Leon Stallard said worker shortages were causing serious concern within the region ahead of the apple harvest.
"Apples normally start around mid-February, so we are about a month away from when we start picking," he said.
"The real concern is the lack of seasonal workers around and the low unemployment we currently have in Hawke's Bay, and [the difficulty] to try and find workers.
"This year will be even worse than last year, because at least last year we had some residue of foreign workers - backpackers etc in the country - but they have gone home now.
"Everyone is on edge. The mental health aspect of the industry is quite fragile."
He said apples, which were picked over about 10 weeks, made up a huge portion of the horticulture sector in Hawke's Bay.
"We almost generate $1 billion a year of export earnings [from apples in New Zealand] of which 70 per cent, if not more, comes from Hawke's Bay."
He said other industries were also impacted and struggling to find workers, including trucking companies.
Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers will make up a large portion of apple pickers during the upcoming harvest between mid-February and late April.
About 2500 RSE workers are currently in Hawke's Bay, according to NZ Immigration.
Most of those workers (83 per cent) are from Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Solomon Islands.
Bostock New Zealand owner John Bostock said they should manage with RSE workers, but for those growers who were not on the RSE scheme it would be a lot tougher.
"We had a chronic labour shortage last year and I think in the industry there will still be a chronic labour shortage [this year], with the unemployment rate so low there is virtually no New Zealanders available for seasonal work - very, very few available," he said.
"Those who are relying on backpackers have a huge problem, because there is just not those tourist workers in New Zealand.
"But those with the RSE scheme will probably be able to scrape through."
He said there would likely be more RSE workers available than last year.
He said the concern was if Covid arrived in some of the island nations many of the RSE workers travelled from, which may prevent workers from being able to come and work.
"There is one other big problem and possibly an even bigger problem which is the global shipping [issues].
"About 95 per cent of our apples are exported."
He invited any Kiwis who wanted a job for the picking season to go to the company's website.
Tukituki Labour MP Anna Lorck said RSE workers were hugely important for the region.
"The horticulture industry has done an outstanding job, working with Government, to make sure we have this one-way travel bubble with the Pacific Islands and that has been incredibly successful in protecting our region from Covid-19 while ensuring we can have the seasonal workers to get the apples picked."
Hawke's Bay Winegrowers Association chairwoman Sally Duncan said wineries and grape growers were also anxious about finding enough workers for the picking season.
She said the window for picking grapes could begin in late February this year for some vineyards in Hawke's Bay and generally ran for about eight to 10 weeks, similar to apples.
"I think there is going to be a few wineries and growers that maybe a little bit stressed," she said, about finding enough pickers.
She said she was not aware how many wineries were using the RSE scheme in Hawke's Bay, but said many of the smaller orchards relied on their own networks to pick grapes.
"What a lot of the wineries do is get family and friends and call on their database to come and help."