It’s great to read apple company  Rockit’s latest media release touting remarkable 33% growth in bin volume over the past year, with a 45% increase in turnover and permanent staff growth of 29%. 

All on the back of 75 million apples picked. This represents real economic value, as opposed to house price appreciation. Without question, Rockit deserves a ‘well done’!

But what remains hard to swallow is Rockit’s projection that it will pack and ship four times that many apples annually by 2025 – over 300 million apples.

One has to weigh this in the context of formidable labour shortages in the orchard business … and indeed through agribusiness. Will Rockit succeed only by taking a big bite out of its apple competitors’ workforce? 

Consider the report this week that Hawke’s Bay has moved up two places in the ASB’s latest Regional Economic Scoreboard, now making #10 on the list.

I’m not a banker, but I do keep my ear to the ground and I suspect the worst is still to come for the many businesses in Hawke’s Bay dependent on:

  1. Efficient supply chains – both to receive goods from overseas (from shiny new cars to machine parts, food ingredients and visitors) and to export in a timely manner the agricultural products we grow and process.
  2. Suitable labour across key sectors – everyone growing food faces serious shortages at all levels, but also engineering and skilled tech workers, hospitality staff, construction trades, truckies, doctors and nurses. You name it, we lack it.

What business in Hawke’s Bay is not feeling one or both of these pinchpoints?

We’re accustomed by now to see estimates of the lost economic value of, for example, 25% of the apple crop going unharvested. What we don’t see is the cumulative effect on the region’s total economic productivity of ‘foregone’ labour that simply isn’t available to be employed.

Clearly someone is doing well in Hawke’s Bay these pre-Christmas days, if the impossibility of parking in Havelock North or Napier CBD during shopping hours is any indication.

But what lies ahead? Rotten apples?

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  1. It is a worrying prospect will we see head hunting of already settled staff the pickers have to come from somewhere will it become a bidding war? Perhaps we need to tempt the grannies out of retirement!

  2. That Rockit Bus is spectacular – what a great photo! So fortunate to have them right here in Hawke’s Bay. A clever company. We are all having to think and operate more quickly and lightly. No going back!!

  3. automation seems to be part of the horticultural answer. a lot of the new orchards are auto-ready set-ups. but the bottom line to change the current imported darkies in the fields white folks in the office model is to increase pay rates and conditions.

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