Growers warn higher fruit and vegetable prices 'inevitable' with foreign workers unable to enter New Zealand

The industry is facing  labour shortage.
The industry is facing labour shortage. Photo credit: Getty

Fruit and vegetable growers across the country are warning there will be "significant price increases" for vegetables, strawberries, stone fruit, cherries and watermelons, with foreign workers unable to enter the country due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Growers have been calling on the Government to allow in Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers to ease a labour shortage but as of yet have had no luck.

On Monday, a group of fruit and vegetable growers from across the country that will be harvesting crops during October, November and December released a statement saying due to the Government's "total refusal to help" they were predicting higher prices "not only this season but [for] many seasons to come".

"Growers are being left with no choices but to make decisions about the type and amount of crops they will plant," the group said. 

"Anything labour intensive is becoming high risk and as such they are having to face reducing plantings of these crops, the outcome of these decisions will impact consumers and growers, not only this season but many seasons to come."

The growers were urging the Government to let in 70 experienced pickers from Samoa at the end of the month to help relieve the shortage.

"We invite the Prime Minister and [Immigration] Minister [Kris] Faafoi to visit the fields and see the tonnes of fruit and vegetables that will be rotting in the ground over the next few weeks due to the Government’s unwillingness to allow in workers from a country that doesn’t even have one COVID case."

Last week Faafoi said it was too risky to let workers in from overseas to fill the shortage. He said he had asked the industry to work with the Ministry for Primary Industries and Immigration to see how they could maximise use of the workers already in New Zealand.

"If they get to the point where they have worked as a sector to say 'hey look, we still have a need for RSE', then they'll do that, but they've still got a bit of work to do," he said.