Coronavirus: Growers make desperate plea to Government for certainty on Pacific travel bubble

Orchardists, growers, and exporters are making a desperate plea to the Government for some certainty around a quarantine-free travel bubble with the Pacific Islands.

Many are in peak harvest right now, but without the seasonal workers they rely on from places like Samoa and Fiji they're short-staffed and watching produce go to waste. 

Bruce Mitchell's apple orchard looks very different this year because parts of it are still full - and that doesn't sound like a problem until you look down. 

"In this block there were 2000 cases - so, you know, there's a revenue stream there of about $60,000 that's been lost," the Hawke's Bay grower explains.

Picking season was crisis-mode at the Napier orchard, with nowhere near enough workers to clear the Royal Gala apples. 

Mitchell's managed to hire 16 pickers, but he needed more than double that.  

"This was beautiful fruit all destined for Spain, but we just couldn't get here, and we had to prioritise which blocks we would pick and which we wouldn't," he says.

The apple industry alone is predicting losses of more than $600 million, but it isn't the only industry suffering.

"We've in fact been short of workers right through the peak lamb season," a Progressive Meats Hastings spokesperson said. Bruce McKay from Watties Hastings said it's having to deal with "erratic supply".

Tuesday's trans-Tasman-bubble announcement brought no relief. Growers say they want an 'apples-for-apples' deal with a Pacific Island bubble because they desperately need the seasonal workers they rely on from countries like Samoa. 

"For the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) workers to work in New Zealand, these are crucial parts of the economy of these countries," says Opposition leader Judith Collins.

"I don't know why the Government is being so cruel to our Pacific neighbours."

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it's not just down to what we want.

"It's actually not just a decision of New Zealand; there are many Pacific neighbours who are part of our RSE schemes who do not want open borders at this point."

For many growers, it's too late for this season anyway. What they want now is certainty for the next so they don't find themselves in this situation again. 

Because right now the pick of the crop is just being left to rot.