Cherry growers face worker shortfall as industry booms

  • 20/09/2018

The booming cherry industry in Central Otago is facing a shortage of workers.

The issue is highlighted in a new report on labour issues facing the region's horticulture and viticulture sectors.

The data came from surveys and interviews with horticulture and viticulture growers during June and July this year. 

It reveals plans for 465 hectares of new cherry plantings in the next four-five years (a 56 percent increase on current plantings), with feasibility studies under way to develop a further 495 hectares of cherries.  

There will be new grape plantings of 284 hectares, which is a 14 percent increase and will bring the total Central Otago vineyard estate to 2275 hectares.

The authors reported optimism among growers, but noted continued growth for these sectors was "contingent on solving the labour challenges."

The peak horticulture harvest period will see an increase in labour demand of 1186 workers over the next five years, with predicted viticulture increases for the same period of 123 workers at harvest.

Central Otago Labour Market Governance Group Chair Stephen Jeffery said the data needs to be used to find solutions. 

"This will take a strong concerted effort by growers, stakeholder groups and local and central government, supported by the governance group," he said. 

Accommodation provision is also a big issue to resolve, with the report predicting an increase in demand for accommodation of 6198 beds to cater for peak harvest demand by 2021/22 for both sectors. 

"While there is a predicted increase in bed and camping capacity supply of 1615, there is still a forecast shortfall of 2298 beds," Mr Jeffrey said.

The 2018 report includes 13 recommendations to be driven at a strategic, workplace, training and community level. 

These include:

  • Highlighting with officials the need for raising the Regional Seasonal Employment (RSE) cap. 
  • Improving processing capacity over the Christmas break.
  • Increasing promotion of horticulture and viticulture work opportunities to holiday visa holders. 
  • Exploring options for engaging underutilised workers in the community, such as older people and parents with young children and allowing more flexible work conditions.

The survey was funded jointly by the New Zealand Fruitgrowers Charitable Trust, Central Otago Winegrowers Association, Seasonal Solutions Cooperative Ltd, Immigration New Zealand and Central Otago District Council.