Business South May 2021

| 55 HORTICULTURE HJ Roberts Orchards Vanuatu workers missed The absence of hard working harvesters from Vanuatu has proved challenging for orchardists Harry and Joan Roberts. T he absence of loyal Vanuatu workers during the busy harvesting period is proving challenging for Central Otago orchardists like Harry and Joan Roberts. Trading under the name ‘Southern Fresh’, HJ Roberts Orchards produces delicious apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums, grown on 60 hectares at the bottom end of the Earnscleugh valley, half way between Alexandra and Clyde. “Right now, in the absence of our usual har- vesters from Vanuatu, it’s difficult,” says Harry. “Backpackers are just wandering off, looking for greener pastures or wanting to go hiking and tramping. We have a good local staff, but of course not enough and not everyone wants to pick or pack fruit or work on an orchard — it’s not a very sexy game sometimes.” Harry and Joan have brought the same Va- nuatu family group out to work for HJ Roberts Orchards during harvest for the last twelve years, and they miss them. “With our Government’s regime they can’t get back here and it’s bloody stupid. We got them away last year in July with the Air Force. I said to them I would get them back as soon as we could but it could be a long process be- cause our Governments rules are hard work. A lot of growers are feeling the new rules are costing us more money. Our Vanuatu workers are on very good money because they’re on a bonus system and we treat them like family.” Harry acknowledges that he and other growers in the region have been fortunate that the Government extended Visas for many people who were in New Zealand on working T Richard Loader holidays, but says the volume of work that many of those people put through is light in comparison to the Vanuatu workers. “The Vanuatu workers do it because it’s their job, they want to do it and they’re skilled. The three boys who have been here the long- est are very skilled and amazing workers. Our boys just love what they do and they go home with a big pocket of money.” Harry says the Vanuatu workers set a pattern for the other workers who lift their game — instead of being a holiday it becomes a working holiday with good output. The orchard has been Harry’s life for the last sixty years. His family arrived in the home farm in 1961 when he was just thirteen. His father was a plasterer by trade and six months later found being an orchardist wasn’t for him and returned to the trade leaving his brothers and mother to run the orchard. Three years later Harry left school to work on the orchard full time and a year later started buying shares in the business, with the purchase of a second block. In 1978 Harry and Joan took over full ownership of the business from the rest of the Roberts’ family and continued to expand the operation buying a bare land block a few kilometres up the road. Harry says in the current climate export markets are challenging and a good growing season in Hawke’s Bay has resulted in over production. “It’s so important for growers to try and make ends meet and the conditions are pretty hard going at the moment.” P: 03 440 0100 E: Offices in Alexandra & Ranfurly Proud to support H&J Roberts Ltd MGMARKETING PROUD TO SUPPORT H&J ROBERTS Auto Services Martin O’Connor 4 Ngapara St, Alexandra (03) 448 5121 Serving the Central Otago rural community • AUTOMOTIVE REPAIRS • MOBILE REPAIR SERVICE • A COURTESY CAR • INSURANCE REPAIRS • HORTICULTURAL, VINEYARD, • AGRICULTURAL REPAIRS