Many growers across Hawke’s Bay had to jump through hoops and become extremely adaptable so they could operate as ‘essential services’ under the Covid lockdown and comply with new conditions of operation.
“There were days when I woke up and wanted to pull the plug. It was easily the most challenging thing I’ve had to do in my working career,” says Pick Hawke’s Bay general manager Anthony Rarere.
“Costs and compliance skyrocketed and we had to adapt everything,” says Rarere, who looks after 488 RSE workers on behalf of 58 different orchards.
There were compliance, checks and new policies and “many hoops to jump through” to confirm the ‘essential’ designation for the orchards he represents.
Rarere says Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) “must have deputised everyone they had …. I even had meat inspectors calling me about our processes who admitted they had no knowledge of horticulture.”
They checked on RSE accommodation to ensure there was social distancing, there were restrictions on pickers being in the same row and vans bringing people to work could no longer have 12 people aboard.
“The amount of checks before work and after work really slowed things down….but we got there in the end and had a pretty good year.”
While apple growers get most of headlines, when it comes to the RSE worker allocations, Pick Hawke’s Bay operates across the board from strawberries to cherries; summer fruit like peaches, apricots and apples; and crops including peas, beans, corn and asparagus.
The various member orchards, including Irrigation Service in Clive and Gourmet Blackberries in Flaxmere, come to Pick Hawke’s Bay with numbers of RSE workers needed and the dates they need them.