Covid-19 border restrictions putting pressure on NZ's largest strawberry producer

Source: 1News

Strawberries could be off the Christmas menu unless the Government allows pickers into the country, according to the country's biggest producer.

It's an issue that was raised in last night's leaders' debate, hosted by TVNZ - whether to bring in much-needed overseas workers to help the country's desperate fruit growers.

The first strawberries of the season are on their way already.

By October the fields will be ready for harvest but the problem is, there's virtually no one to pick them.

Vital overseas workers who make up the bulk of pickers can't get here due to New Zealand's closed border. 

Francie Perry is the country's biggest strawberry producer, a multi-million-dollar operation.

"It's critical," she told 1 NEWS.

"If the Government don't allow some of these horticulture workers across the border, then the Kiwi public are going to be faced with very high prices for annual crops."

The Government says locals will take up the slack, with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern saying: "We do have Kiwis without work right now."

Yesterday they announced foreigners with expiring working holiday visas can now move into horticulture.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor estimates that would mean around 11,000 people could move into the job.

But Perry is sceptical.

"If they believe that there's plenty of harvest staff here, where are they, because we can't find them," she says.

Work and Income has found her just eight workers. None want the hard work of picking.

"It is the worst response from Kiwis for picking I've ever seen. Ever!"

Perry says she has the solution - accommodation in Auckland all set to receive workers from Covid-free Samoa.

"We've got a facility that would be suitable for quarantine and we could quarantine 70 one people in it and that would get us through."

She's paid for it all and she'll even pay for the security staff. 

But the Government is still not budging.

"If we don't get it organised in the next week or so, it becomes a real crisis," Perry says.

Without pickers, more than 1000 Kiwi jobs in the packhouse will potentially be lost, and the Christmas favourites could be left to rot in the ground.