Friday, 08 May 2020 09:25

COVID-19: Hort sector’s impressive response

Written by  Peter Burke
Hort NZ chair Barry O’Neill says the sector has collectively and positively. Hort NZ chair Barry O’Neill says the sector has collectively and positively.

HortNZ chair Barry O’Neill is impressed with the way the horticulture sector has worked collectively and positively on all the issues it has faced.

He says, in particular, the industry has done a first-rate job in responding to protect the health and safety of staff during the crisis. O’Neill says employers have responded very professionally in making the health and safety of their staff the number one priority and have instituted policies and added special barriers inside packing sheds to ensure social distancing requirements are met.

“In some of the big packhouses that has resulted in lower throughput and them having to pack much slower because fewer people could be employed to meet social distancing requirements,” he told Rural News

“Over the last couple of weeks, we have been working with MPI with most packing sheds have installed perspex screens, which enables people to work closer together. This, in turn, has allowed the packhouses to employ more people and – in most cases – throughput in these places is almost back to normal. Social distancing has also impacted on how much fruit can be picked in orchards,” he says.

One issue that has yet to be fully resolved in the sector is that of workers who come each year from the Pacific Islands to work on orchards and commercial growing operations under the RSE (recognised seasonal employee scheme).

O’Neill says a number of issues have arisen in respect to these workers as a result of COVID-19. 

He says the RSE workers are an important part of NZ horticulture and hopes they will continue to be in the future. 

But with travel bans in place, those workers who are in NZ cannot get home and those back in their own countries and were hoping to come to NZ soon cannot travel either.

“Obviously, it needs to be recognised that every RSE worker has a family and that family has been impacted,” he explains.

“The future of RSE workers is one we have to consider and find a sustainable way the scheme can operate,” he says.

Labour shortages have long been a problem for the horticulture sector, but since COVID-19 arrived on our shore many out-of-work Kiwis have found jobs in the sector. O’Neill says the number one priority of the sector is hiring unemployed New Zealanders.

More like this

Let them open!

Horticulture NZ is pleading with the Government to allow independent fruit and vegetable retailers to remain open as the wider Auckland region undergoes another COVID lockdown.


Lindsay Farm raw milk recall

Raw milk from Central Hawke’s Bay producers Lindsay Farm is being recalled after Campylobacterbacteria was found in some product.


Carcase collection impasse

Collection of dead calves from farms around the country has stopped with farmers and the recycling company blaming each other for the impasse.

Taking NAIT seriously

North Otago calf rearer Jared Ovens believes the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak has led to more farmers embracing animal traceability.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Too soft

This old mutt wonders why multi-national, tax-dodging, fundraising organisation Greenpeace always gets a free pass from the police.

No tax

Your old mate understands that there is quite a bit of nervousness around sheep farming circles that another levy will…

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter