Farmers and growers to play critical role in rebuilding economy

Farmers, growers and producers will play a critical role in New Zealand's economic recovery.

The primary sector will need 50,000 more people in the post-COVID-19 world and the Government wants to redeploy recently unemployed Kiwis to fill the gap.

When you're an apple grower, money literally grows on trees.

So leaving the red gold unpicked is bad news. 

"We've had to compromise and sacrifice some of the crops because we didn't have enough labour at the time to harvest it," says apple grower Leon Stallard.

Finding seasonal workers has never been easy, but now it's nearly impossible.

"It's more than we've said for years, climbing a ladder and sitting on a sprayer and picking. But those are critical jobs, but there's an awful lot of work available - we're always short of staff, and skilled staff too," says Stallard.

There are 50,000 extra jobs in the primary industries up for grabs in the post-COVID world.

"The key is not just finding employers for workers who are out of work, the key is upskilling the workers so they can take on the job and develop a career in it," says Mike Chapman of Horticulture New Zealand.

Horticulture NZ says the general make-up of the seasonal workforce is one-third Kiwis, one-third Pacific Islanders who come over especially for the season and one-third backpackers. So if the current border restrictions stay in place, harvesting crews are two-thirds short.

In total $232 million has been dedicated to boosting jobs in the sector, with $19 million of that used to immediately retrain at least 10,000 recently unemployed New Zealanders, like those in aviation. 

"It's not just getting them on the farm, it's about making sure they have the skills, that they can thrive once they're on the farm," says Andrew Hoggard, vice-president of Federated Farmers.

Hoggard is welcoming the focus on jobs but says productivity needs a boost - and that means better rural cellphone coverage and better roads.

"[There's] a lot of talk about trains and ferries, but none of those go up to my tanker track."

And the Government agrees what's in that milk tanker is going to play a critical role in getting our economy back on track too.