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Fears part of bumper apple crop may be lost

New Zealand's apple growers fear a bumper crop coupled with a shortage of workers could mean some of the summer harvest is lost.

The group New Zealand Apples and Pears, which represents the pip fruit industry, wants the government to step in and allow tourists to pick fruit without a working visa.

Group spokesperson Gary Jones said this could happen if the government declares a seasonal labour shortage in the country's primary apple growing regions of Hawke's Bay and Nelson.

This would allow overseas visitors in the country on tourist visas to work in the horticulture industry without obtaining the usual work permits.

"We have a larger crop that will require a lot more workers and we're not seeing any more working holiday people turning up.

"The other challenge we've got is very, very low unemployment. So it's shaping up as being a bigger, earlier labour shortage than last year."

The apple picking season gets into full swing in mid-February, and Mr Jones said it looked unlikely there would be enough labour to pick the year's crop.

"We're expecting another 30,000 tonnes more apples, nationally. That's getting up over 600,000 tonnes of fruit.

"That increase in Hawke's Bay alone, for example, is around 500 more workers, just to pick the increase."

Mr Jones said he'd like to see a permanent regime put in place so growers don't have to plead with the government each time more workers were needed.

"Consumers will just switch to other products produced in other countries and it'll be lost completely from New Zealand.

"We don't have to do that. And the solution is right at our fingertips but we can't seem to grab that solution to create ongoing growth and prosperity for our regions."

Andrew Little is one of the duty ministers during the holiday season.

He pointed to a recently-announced government proposal to make it easier for businesses to get migrant workers if there was a shortage, which was currently up for public consultation.

"They can be assured that we totally get the challenge they've got which is that the fruit are on the trees. It's a bumper season and a bumper crop and they've got to get those crops harvested.

"That's why we've changed the rules so that they're more regionally focused as opposed to nationally focused and it's easier for employers in that situation to get migrant help."

Mr Little said the new rules were designed to take into account the unique needs of regions and would make it easier to get seasonal migrant labour.

He said he was not sure that making a declaration of a seasonal labour shortage would help.

The Ministry of Social Development said in a statement it was actively promoting seasonal work opportunities and supporting job seekers to fill vacancies.

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