New Zealand apple growers have had to make some "tough decisions" recently, due to a lack of pickers, Apples and Pears chief executive Allan Pollard says.
Pollard confirmed that some growers have had to rip up their trees because of the worker shortage.
"At the moment we have no confidence at all at where our labour supply is going to come from," he told The Country's Jamie Mackay.
Along with pulling trees out, some growers were making redevelopment decisions earlier than they normally would, holding off planting, and identifying low-value commodity varieties of apple to be "sacrificed," Pollard said.
"Others are looking at how they can aggressively thin, to manage crop loads."
While it was possible to have apples mechanically harvested, the technology was "not there," Pollard said.
"I would think that still 10 or 15 years away. So for the interim period we're still reliant on manual labour to get crop off."
Normally the sector expected between 50 and 70,000 working people on working holiday visas to be available, but only around 10,000 of these workers remained after being encouraged to return home due to Covid-19, Pollard said.
The next few months would be a busy time for the horticulture sector.
"Coming into November which is heading towards the start of the summerfruit season, we're between 5 and 7000 people short. Heading into March, April for the apple harvest, we're 11,000 people short - so it's a dire situation."
Finding Kiwis to take the work on was proving difficult, which was happening around many sectors in New Zealand, Pollard said.
"Everyone is crying out for staff and no one can find them."
Picking apples was "really hard" and "physically demanding" work as well, which didn't help, Pollard said.
"You've got to climb up and down an eight to 12 foot ladder carrying a bag of apples around your waist - so, I'd certainly struggle."
This was the reason 80 per cent of pickers in the apple industry were migrant labourers, while 80 per cent of the packhouse was made up of "New Zealanders who struggled more with the physical part," according to Pollard.
Chief executives of several horticulture groups, including Pollard, were in Wellington today to present a "statement paper" to the Government.
The paper outlined their concerns around the labour shortage, along with the possibility of quarantine facilities for overseas workers, and the "economic consequences of not getting this decision right," Pollard said.
While Pollard was "delighted" to see Kris Faafoi confirmed as Minister of Immigration - due to positive discussions before the election - time was of the essence.
"We're facing a timing issue. The summerfruit industry needs these 5000 people by mid December and if you take quarantine and other things into account, we need the decisions now."