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Covid labour challenges in the rural sector

Well I guess we all expected the coronavirus, Covid-19, to raise it’s ugly head again and in many ways it’s nice to see the government responding by locking down areas that are part of the significant cluster harder than the rest of the country.

For everyone in New Zealand this latest outbreak is a reminder that Covid-19 is going to be with us for many years, possible forever and, now we have all had a bit of a reality check, it’s time to remain positive and get on with life as best we can. There will be many changes in how we live and do business, some businesses simply won’t survive the new economic environment.

The hospitality sector in areas like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and in areas that rely almost totally on international tourists (Queenstown) will really struggle to survive. They need to change their whole business model to meet the needs of new Zealanders or they will fail.

Another sector facing a significant challenges is the rural sector, wine producers for example, will still be making wine but the quality and volume may be impacted by changing international on-premise markets, the lack of visitors buying wine at the cellar door and the shortage of skilled migrant labour to work in vineyards.

Making the prefect drop starts long before the grapes are harvested and turned into wine in the winery, it starts during early winter with vine pruning. If vines aren’t pruned properly they won’t deliver the fruit winemakers need, it is a skilled job.

Sure, anyone can learn to prune but the available local labour force just isn’t there in sufficient size, especially in regions like Marlborough where vineyards are vast.

For many years the answer has been bringing in foreign workers for a few months to do a job that many New Zealanders see as tedious, hard work. People employed through the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) scheme are a vital part of the rural sector in New Zealand and in turn these temporary migrants who make up a highly skilled workforce are able to support their families in much poorer nations. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The current restriction on migrant workers coming to New Zealand under Covid-19 regulations doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, the government thinks many New Zealanders are going to need jobs when they are made redundant and they can do this work.

The problems with that thinking are many; the latest unemployment numbers were considerably lower than predicted, vineyard workers were needed during winter when pruning was happening, many New Zealanders who have been or will be made redundant don’t live in areas where the work is available, the vast majority will also requiring retraining to do the work now, not in a few months.

Working in the rural sector is hard, often dangerous, work and needs skilled labour today not sometime next year.

If the government isn’t careful the focus on allowing skilled workers to come in to play rich-boy games racing boats but not allow skilled workers in the less sexy, but vital, food-producing rural sector to enter New Zealand via managed isolation facilities and do the hard work there isn’t a current workforce available to do, then the economic recovery will take much longer and come with a lot more pain.

Now I have that little moan off my chest here’s a tasty recipe for charred prawns, mango, peanut & lime from the great guys at Hopgood’s & Co for you to make at home.

Head chef Aaron Ballantyne says they are super easy to make using ingredients many people will have at home with the addition of a few easy to find ingredients

Charred prawns, mango, peanut & lime

Serves 4


32 large prawns, shelled & deveined

2 tbsp Thai chilli sauce

1 mango, peeled & diced

½ red onion

1 cup mung bean sprouts

1 cucumber, peeled, thinly sliced

2 bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped

1 bunch Thai basil, roughly chopped

½ cup spiced salty roasted peanuts

15ml Thai fish sauce

20g coconut sugar or grated palm sugar

40ml fresh lime juice

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely grated

½ cm piece ginger, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon peanut oil


  1. Marinated the prawns with the chilli sauce for 2 hours in fridge.
  2. Preheat a bbq grill.
  3. Put mango, onion, chilli, sprouts, cucumber, herbs and peanuts in a large bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl make the dressing. Whisk together the fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, chilli, garlic, ginger and peanut oil. Taste and season with more fish sauce if needed. The dressing should taste sweet, hot and sour.
  5. Grill the prawns on the hot bbq grill, until golden. Add to the salad ingredients, drizzle over the dressing, then toss well to combine.
  6. To serve – divide the prawn salad between 4 plates. Serve with an extra wedge of lime to the side.

Published in the Nelson Mail 19.08.20

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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