Back to the news list Primary sector boost to bring more jobs for Hawke'
14 May 2020 - Media Release - Stuff NZ

A Hawke's Bay man who lives and breathes the apple industry says the Government's latest budget announcement is a boost for the fruit sector.

Ben James, operations manager at Rockit Global Limited, was most of the way through the apple harvest when coronavirus reared its ugly head.

In the 2020 Budget announcement, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said $19.3 million would be spent over four years in a range of initiatives to help thousands of recently unemployed New Zealanders access training and work opportunities in the primary sector.

"New Zealand is a world leader in terms of production of apples, so it's nice to have the funding to stay ahead of the curve and to keep all that happening," James said.

Ben James, operations manager at Rockit Apples in Hawke's Bay.
Ben James, operations manager at Rockit Apples in Hawke's Bay.

"As we produce more food per square metre of land, it needs more people to produce that food, and that will lead to more jobs." .

James was "really pleased" to hear about extra funding and resource that was going to go into apprenticeship training and up-skilling.

"In our industry, our guys come through as qualified fruit production specialists and last year we had 120 cadets here in Hawke's Bay; so that will go a long way to support the new people coming into the industry and getting them up to speed in terms of skill set and competency." 

James grew up in the pipfruit sector and recently passed the 10-year mark of working in the industry.

He looks after all the orchards for Rockit's investment groups and spends most days liaising with orchard managers, assisting them to plan and manage their workloads.

The biggest challenge since Covid-19 had been staying conscious of his workers and their bubbles. 

"You could be in somebody's bubble without even thinking about it, because it's just the norm," he said. 

James played the essential role of the ''foghorn'' during the first few weeks of lockdown, making sure fruit pickers kept their distance from one another.

"We had to be very confident about what our staff were up to once they left work, and were they staying in their bubble once they left work." 

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