A punnet of strawberries for $2 at the supermarket may be a bargain for consumers, but it's "particularly painful" for Kiwi growers, Michael Ahern says.
"Growers are not happy at all, in fact some of them are opening up their gardens to pick-your-own early to find some way to gain recovery by keeping costs down," Ahern, who is executive manager for Strawberry Growers New Zealand, told The Country's Jamie Mackay.
"That's not the way they want to do it – but they're professional growers and they want normal, orthodox channels to market on a weekly basis."
"They're big boys and girls and they can suck it up to a certain extent – but this one is particularly painful."
Covid-19 had created a perfect storm for strawberry growers, as the crops were planted out on an annual basis, Ahern said.
"All the investment decisions for the current crop were made last January in expectation of a normal market and of course ... two months later – it wasn't normal at all."
This year, growers were also being asked to make commitments for next year's harvest now, instead of around September or October, Ahern said.
Another "crucial issue" for the sector was a lack of professional skilled workers, "particularly for the larger growers," Ahern said.
"They're the exporters. They're the guys who can get stuff out of this country and off the local market when we have depressed times – and everybody still wins."
"Unless we can get some certainty back into RSE workers for some of these operators – then I have a fear they make be considering at least shrinking."
Air freight was also creating difficulties, with the frequency and capacity down and costs rising anywhere between 200 to 400 per cent, exporters had told Ahern.
Although a reasonable amount of export business had been lined up - those crops were unable to be harvested due to a lack of labour, Ahern said.
"It's a great tragedy."
For the moment, there was one thing consumers could do to help out struggling Kiwi strawberry growers, Ahern said.
"They're a good deal, let's face it ... the best thing that can happen is you fill your boots – fill your shopping baskets."