Some apple growers in Tasman district worry there may be a repeat of the 2018 labour shortage as a bumper crop is tipped for the coming season.
"I think, we've got a very, very good crop," said long-time grower David Easton.
Fellow grower and New Zealand Apples & Pears board member Matthew Hoddy said crop projections were up 9 per cent on 2018.
The Ministry of Social Development on April 5, 2018 declared a seasonal labour shortage across the region until May 18, pointing to bumper crops, low unemployment and the impact of ex-tropical cyclones Fehi and Gita affecting visitor numbers to the district and damaging some workers' accommodation.
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Easton said there was a risk of a seasonal labour shortage again this season.
"It reflects the fact New Zealand has [almost] full employment," he said.
Fewer New Zealand citizens were available for short-term seasonal positions, which meant the industry was becoming dependent on overseas visitors with working holiday visas and workers employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.
Hoddy said it was too early to tell if there would be labour shortage this season but he suspected it could be the case.
There were a lot of students in the district over summer but the main harvesting period for apples was late February to April "and students have gone back to school by then".
Riwaka orchardist and fellow NZ Apples & Pears board member Evan Heywood said he personally had enough workers.
"This year, it's a mix of locals, backpackers and RSE workers, all on a casual basis and we're quite happy."
The comments from Heywood, Hoddy and Easton come after New Zealand Apples & Pears spokesman Gary Jones said another 30,000 tonnes of apples were expected this season nationally.
"That increase in Hawke's Bay alone, for example, is around 500 more workers, just to pick the increase," he said.
Jones urged the Government to consider declaring a seasonal labour shortage, which would allow overseas visitors on tourist visas to work in the horticulture industry without obtaining the usual work permits.
Heywood agreed with Jones' comments.
"Growers are short on staff, so allowing tourists to work in the orchards without working visas, or any plan like this, would be great," he said. "Otherwise, growers will miss their crop. The fruit has to be picked at the right time; you can't leave the crops on the trees too long."
Easton said the demand for workers was a bigger problem in Hawke's Bay. Hoddy agreed.
"Because of the scale of operations in Hawke's Bay, it is more of an issue there than it is here but there is definitely still an obvious effect in Tasman," Hoddy said.
Easton said he, like other growers, had been investing in workers' accommodation over the past 10 years and could now house 78 people.
"You can't get staff ... unless you accommodate them," he said.
Hoddy said harvesting fruit was physically challenging while Easton said it was a highly skilled job.