Horticulture sector 'left out in the cold' with foreign workers unable to enter New Zealand

The horticulture sector has been left out in the cold by the Government's failure to let in foreign workers, says David Seymour.

His comments come after a grower in Northland was forced to leave rows of courgettes to rot due to a lack of specialised workers to help pick the food during harvest season.

The country's horticulture industry relies heavily on foreign seasonal workers during the busy harvest season. But with COVID-19 closing our borders, the sector is short thousands of workers this season.

Last month, growers warned the labour shortage would lead to some fruit and vegetables being left to rot. And that's exactly what has happened for grower David Heap.

He told NZHerald.co.nz over the weekend he was now considering leaving the industry because of the situation.

"I can accept losing a crop with weather, or disease, or water damage. I have real difficulty accepting I'm on the point of getting out of the industry because the Government doesn't care," Heap told the Herald.

ACT leader David Seymour says Heap's situation - and that of the industry in general - shows more needs to be done urgently. 

"There's nothing sadder than someone who tries being knocked back by others' needless restrictions, as is the case with Brett Heap," Seymour said on Monday.

"Brett Heap is a pioneer of the horticulture industry. His courgettes are rotting on the ground because he can't get workers to harvest them under the Government's restrictions."

Growers have been calling on the Government for months to allow foreign RSE workers into the country to help during the harvest season. Last month, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said he had asked the sector to work with the Ministry for Primary Industries and Immigration to see how they could maximise the use of workers already in New Zealand.

"We're just saying at the moment, 'we want you to do the best with what's here in New Zealand ... and that is a big challenge'," he said.

"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."

A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor told the Herald over the weekend the issue was still before Cabinet and said O'Connor would be meeting with horticultural industry leaders this week.

Seymour said the Government needed to take a "risk-proportionate approach to people entering the country and allow private operators to operate MIQ while itself focusing on safety standards".

"The horticultural seasons are predictable. They happen every year. Produce rotting on the ground was foreseeable. But instead of working with the sector to find a solution, as ACT has argued, the Government of inclusion and kindness left the sector out in the cold."