Growing Kiwi Labour

27 Oct 2017


The latest Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries (SOPI) report from the Ministry for Primary Industries forecasts primary sector exports to rise 9.3% over the next year. According to the Ministry, horticulture export revenue increased 3.2% in the year ended June 2017, despite challenging weather limiting horticulture exports, the sector’s fundamentals support continued long-term expansion.  

The SOPI states that, across the sector, strong market demand has supported good profitability at the farm level, which has in turn incentivised a wave of investment in both production and processing capacity. This has been driven, in part, by successful new varieties being developed and commercialised. 

The key ingredients for the continued horticultural growth are land, water, labour, innovation, market access, and strong biosecurity. Getting the policy settings right so that this recipe works is no easy task. 

One area where horticulture is vulnerable is seasonal labour supply.  If there are insufficient workers for harvesting, pruning, and thinning, productivity and quality will fall and crops can be lost.

The Registered Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme provides seasonal labour, mostly from the Pacific Islands. These workers work here for a time, then return home to the Pacific with the benefit of their earnings in their pockets. This amounts to many millions of dollars every year; not only does it provide work and funds for the Pacific, it enables the New Zealand’s growers to produce quality produce supporting in turn continued export growth.

The scheme has been in operation for 10 years, and over that time has supported the growth of New Zealand horticulture, allowing for growing operations to expand and enabling the employment of more permanent and seasonal New Zealanders.  This, in turn, has made it possible to run employer, industry, and Government work schemes aimed at getting New Zealanders into work in our gardens and orchards. 

RSE has been a vital ingredient in the growth of horticulture and, given the right policy settings, will continue to support horticulture’s growth into the future, which the Ministry estimates will increase by 4.9% in 2018 and an incredible 5.8% in 2019. 

- Mike Chapman, CEO