Hortinvest export cherries NZ

Richard Palmer, interim chief executive of Summerfruit NZ, has highlighted labour, logistics and consumer access as the industry’s three biggest challenges post-Covid-19 at the industry body’s recent AGM.

The AGM was held on 15 July in Alexandria and online to accommodate remote attendance. In his interim chief executive’s report, Palmer thanked the industry its support and the work already undertaken in response to the pandemic.

Looking forward, Palmer said there were three issues that required the most immediate attention: labour, to get the crop harvested and packed; logistics to get the fruit to international markets; and access to those market and the consumers in those markets.

“Nickel-and-diming those issues is a distraction which we cannot afford,” Palmer said.

“Your organisation needs your support to make things happen; securing a workforce that can harvest your income and get it to market to realise that income.”

Palmer noted the work that had already been done across New Zealand’s horticulture industry in preparation of a Covid-19 recovery.

On labour, he said Summerfruit NZ had formed a subcommittee to focus on fulfilling the industry’s labour demand, which it estimates as 7,000 workers for a summerfruit harvest in New Zealand.

In 2020 season the majority of these roles were filled by backpackers and working holiday visa holders, a source of labour which may be impacted by travel restrictions come the 2021 season.

A subcommittee was also formed to address the issue of logistics heading into the 2021 season.

“Airfreight capacity is about 25 per cent of normal, and currently declining due to the government slow down on arrivals. Forecasts for December/January are suggesting a slight increase, perhaps, on where we are today,” Palmer said.

“We are talking with MPI, and other sectors, about the airfreight capacity shortfall and will be developing a proposal for support.”