OPOTIKI kiwifruit orchardist Adrian Gault believes that Opotiki, its businesses and the wider community have a huge opportunity to capture the benefits from the latest growth and success of the kiwifruit industry.
“The kiwifruit industry is expected to grow significantly over the next five to 10 years and the Eastern Bay, East Cape and Gisborne regions are already seeing large increases in new plantings of kiwifruit,” he said.
Mr Gault reckoned the Opotiki district needed to be thinking strategically to ensure the community was “fit for purpose” and received the benefit of this growth.
“The increased workforce required to grow, harvest and pack the fruit and the associated accommodation shortages, the transportation of fruit from packhouses to the port and the impact on roading infrastructure and road integrity are among some of the many challenges that the community and the industry need to address,” he said.
The kiwifruit industry was very labour intensive.
“Every new hectare of orchard creates approximately half a full-time job,” Mr Gault said.
With approximately 300-400 hectares of new plantings a year and with productivity gains from the 300-350 hectares of conversion from the green variety to the new licensed Sungold variety, the industry would need 200 to 300 more workers a year and this was projected to continue for at least the next four to five years.
“With the increase in jobs comes the real opportunity for the local workforce and local businesses to benefit from this growth,” Mr Gault said.
The labour cost component of growing, picking and packing each hectare of kiwifruit was significant and typically varied between $30,000-$35,000 each year.
Mr Gault said, “kiwifruit growing is a time-critical crop”, meaning the work had to be done on time to produce a high-value crop.
“To achieve this, a large number of workers are required to get through the workload on time,” he said.
Much of this work was done by contracting teams consisting of some local residents, but more typically by visiting backpackers and Recognised Seasonal Employment workers from the Pacific Islands.
“For Opotiki to benefit we need to capture as much of the labour cost component as possible, and keep it and spend it in our community. That is, by encouraging and training more of our local people working in these contractor teams, and then secondly, by providing good accommodation and service to the backpacker and RSE workforce.”
Mr Gault said the kiwifruit industry had “plenty of opportunity for young people to build a successful career, which could often lead from orchard worker to orchard supervision, management and ultimately orchard ownership.
“There are also career pathways for those working in the packhouse, and there are many job opportunities in associated businesses that rely on the kiwifruit industry; like the transport industry where truck drivers and forklift operators are in short supply,” he said.
Roading was a big factor in the ongoing success of Opotiki.
“All kiwifruit, and many other primary produce from the Opotiki, East Cape and Gisborne areas will be predominantly loaded and trucked by road to the Tauranga port via Opotiki,” Mr Gault said.
“Currently, our roads in the Eastern Bay are deteriorating, and we are at real risk of being cut off due to road or bridge failure.
“It’s a fundamental necessity for our region’s success that we ensure our roads and access to the Port of Tauranga are well maintained and enhanced to enable the continuity and quality of transport.”