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Where our workforce comes from
This year I was fortunate to attend the Horticulture NZ conference, that was disrupted by Covid-19 last year. Again, this year it was held at Mystery Creek in Hamilton. The layout of the venue was much better this year and the staff at the venue were superb. The organisation of the event was also faultless thanks to the superb work by Horticulture NZ staff. It was a shame so many of the presentations overlapped but I fully understand how difficult it must be to accommodate subjects for all the different product groups within the available time frame.
It was very disappointing, from my point of view, that so few tomato growers attended this year’s conference. There has been some major biosecurity issues this year, including the Pepino Mosaic Virus outbreak, which may have kept growers away. There was a very good presentation on greenhouse hygiene, all be it far too short, but the importance of this subject is of the highest importance.
The presentation I was most intrigued by and impressed with was from Emma Boase, People Capability Manager for Horticulture NZ. Emma spoke in regards to Workforce Development and Industry Transformation Plans. I was particularly interested how Emma broke down the horticulture workforce pathways. Although already recognised, many of the workers the horticulture sector rely on is via international pathways. These include the RSE scheme, international students and backpackers. All of these avenues have been hit hard by Government Covid-19 border restrictions in the past year especially the RSE scheme from other covid-free countries.
The intention from Government was for the industry to pay more to locals which would then help attract the workers required to harvest the produce. This unfortunately did not eventuate. It is obvious that no matter how much you try to pay locals to carry out the seasonal work they were either not interested to work or it was not suitable to transition to this short-term seasonal work, and who can blame them for that. Latest employment levels indicate that NZ is almost at peak employment and those that are currently unemployed may not be in a position to relocate etc.
This poses the question- “Next year, when the harvesting starts, how is the industry going to pick the fruit without a huge injection of the labour units required?” There should be more RSE workers allowed to come in as there won’t be many if any backpackers and limited international students. However, if Covid-19 locks NZ down again, and closes the borders to the Pacific nations, then all bets are most likely off. The only hope is an increase in vaccinations to those in NZ and our Pacific family.
Above Image: Emma Boase presenting on Development and Industry Transformation Plans
Tomatoes NZ Inc AGM was held during the conference. Thanks to all those that attended.
Congratulations to Alasdair Macleod for his Tomatoes NZ Lifetime Achievement award. Alasdair was the first independent chair of Tomatoes NZ and spent six years in the role previous to the current chair. His contribution to the board was second to none. How he put up with all of us growers for six years no one actually knows! Well done, Alasdair.
One of the best stand's at the conference was the Massey University LED growing lights. It was innovative, a real sign of what is happening around the world and how the technology is coming to NZ.