Back to the news list Labour shortage biggest hurdle for expanding pipfr
7 November 2019 - Media Release - HB Today

An industry that was on its knees just a few years ago is now expanding at a rapid rate.

Hawke's Bay's pipfruit industry was almost broken in the early 2000s by a combination of poor returns, high costs and an unsatisfactory understanding of their markets.

However, now it is obvious on the Heretaunga Plains that the industry is in robust health as more and more land goes into orchard.

Apples and Pears New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard said the expansion, from Central Hawke's Bay to Gisborne, was a great vote of confidence in the industry.

In 2017 Hawke's Bay had 6107ha planted in apples. By this year it was 6521ha and still growing. In Central Hawke's Bay a 450ha development of apple trees and other crops is under way in the Wakarara area. And the development on the Heretaunga Plains is clear to see every day and more are planned.

Pollard puts the turnaround down to a number of factors.

One was a focus on a swing away from commodity varieties and focusing on a breeding programme which produced club varieties such as jazz, envy, the Pacific range and dazzle.

"They were developed with specific markets in mind. We also have control of the intellectual property rights."

He said the integrated pest management programme developed in the early 2000s which produced softer, more targeted, sprays used to thresholds greatly reduced chemical residues and put New Zealand "in front of the rest of the world".

"Our Plant and Food Research organisation is one of the leading plant research organisations in the world."

Pollard also said this Government was keen on trade agreements to open markets around the world for our apples. New Zealand grows 580,000 tonnes of apples but exports 360,000 tonnes to 80 countries around the world.

In contrast China grows 43-million tonnes, or half the world's apples, yet is still one of New Zealand's best markets. In fact, the Asian markets of China, Thailand, Taiwan and India take 41 per cent of our exports. Pollard said that figure was likely to reach 50 per cent before long.

Germany is our biggest single market, the US is second and the UK third.

However, there are some difficulties ahead for the increased production. Labour is the big one with some crops already going unpicked.

More coolstore space would also be welcome, he said. Biosecurity risks rose with stink bugs and fruit flies to worry about.

However, labour was the biggest concern. The Government had not been so quick to act on this to allow more recognised seasonal employer scheme workers in.

"A UN organisation described the RSE scheme as the most ethical migratory labour scheme in the world and it is a hugely successful form of aid to the Pacific Islands," he said.

The chairman of the pipfruit sector of the Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers' Association, Ben James, echoed the concerns about labour.

"We asked for 3000 workers and got half that. The Government told growers they had to build accommodation for their workers so they did not take housing away from New Zealanders.

"They have kept their side of the bargain and invested up to $25 million in buildings. The Government has not kept their side of the bargain. Growers need certainty they can fill the accommodation.

"Growers have offered their accommodation to the Government for use in the off-season and some of it is already in use.

"They also said we had to employ New Zealand workers first. We have all tried to do this but the workers are just not there.

"We would prefer to employ Kiwis. It's very satisfying to get someone into a fulltime job."
James said commercially viable robot pickers were probably 10 years away so the problem remained.

He said urban sprawl over fertile soils was another concern that the sector tried to work in with the councils.

However, he was confident of the future of his industry saying its success was the result of careful planning and strategy on the back of a decade of hard work.

However, the success of the apple industry is not good news for everyone. Cropping land is getting harder to find and much more expensive to lease.

Prices of $3000/ha for irrigated land and about half that for dry land have been quoted.
These are up about $200/ha on last year and further erode the profitability of process crops.

Also, some stonefruit orchards are being pulled out and replaced with apples which could make such fruit more expensive around Christmas time when it is ready for market.

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