Horticulture and labour – June 2021
By Jen Scoular
Like many other horticulture industries, the avocado industry is running full steam ahead into a period of growth. The success of avocados here and globally in recent years has resulted in considerable investment into new plantings in New Zealand and our existing orchards are showing measurable increases in productivity. This growing volume of New Zealand avocados presents a great opportunity to contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth moving forward, but we the industry, like the rest of horticulture, needs continued government support to ensure we have the labour and skills to make the most of that opportunity.
The avocado industry doesn’t have as high a need for RSE workers as other horticulture sectors, but we certainly use backpackers and migrant labour and with a considerable crop forecast for the 2021 season our growers and packers will be short of labour without as many of those in the country.
We’re in the middle of the biggest crisis this generation of New Zealanders has ever faced. Here in New Zealand we happen to be sitting in the land of opportunity because we are pretty much Covid free, but we are weary because everything we do to make an economic gain, for our sector, ourselves or New Zealand is harder.
Our avocado exporters had an incredibly difficult year in 2020, but still managed to deliver a great value result to growers. Avocados have to get to export markets in less than 30 days, and globally the freight sector is a mess. Ships arrive late, or not at all, timetables change, ports suddenly drop off the route so a container of avocados intended for Seoul in Korea ends up without a market plan, in Shanghai, China. Time matters for the fragile, delicious avocado. Delays cost quality and long-term delays mean avocados exit the container having already turned themselves into guacamole. That might sound delicious (especially if the container also carried tomato and coriander) but it really is not good.
Growth is being constrained across horticulture because of a shortage of labour, and the government is keen to ensure that wages increase for New Zealanders. Now is not a good time to stall the amount of labour available to growth sectors like horticulture, it just does not make sense. If the country is looking to horticulture to help it employ more New Zealanders, growth of the sector should be the primary objective. This requires continued support and investment at all levels, including government.