The extent of the kiwifruit picker shortage has been difficult to gauge due to wet weather, says NZKGI chief executive Nikki Johnson.
“It's been an odd start to the season, because we’ve had a lot of rain in the Bay of Plenty over the last six weeks,” says Nikki.
“We can’t pick in the rain, so it has disrupted the start of the season. When there are fine days, everyone is trying to pick as quickly as they can.”
NZKGI are expecting feedback about whether there’s an adequate amount of pickers in coming weeks, says Nikki.
“The thing about not having consistent days is that you don’t get a good sense about if you have enough people or not.
“You really need to have a number of days picking in a row to gauge that – and that’s only really happening now. It continues to be a challenge.”
Ideally, Gold kiwifruit needs to be picked before the end of May, and Green can be picked until the end of June.
“Every day that we lose to rain is a day we can't pick up later on. So there's going to be a lot of demand for people to pick fruit on every fine day.”
The inconsistent picking days has the potential to contribute to an overall shortage of workers, as it can deter people from the job.
“We know inconsistency is a reason why some people choose not to do picking, as you can't guarantee that you're going to get the same hours as you get in the packhouses and in other roles.
“It’s a big challenge for pickers.”
Nikki says that picking operations’ hiring campaigns have worked really well but there are still vacancies – the extent of which will be known closer to the peak of the season.
“We're a little bit nervous – that’s how I’d describe it.”
While picking, and therefore storing, wet fruit increases the chances of fungi growth and disease, Nikki says that’s not the main reason that picking can’t occur in the rain.
“When the fruit is wet, the stickers that are required for international markets won't stick.
“Having to dry that volume of fruit so the packhouses can put stickers on is quite a challenge, so that’s really the main reason we don’t pick when it’s wet.”