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Hyundai Country Calendar


Episode 5: Picking Up Work

Picking Up Work

Succulent asparagus spears, drizzled with a tasty dressing or perhaps a little hollandaise sauce.  It's an early summer treat most Kiwis look forward to.

And for asparagus growers, it can be a lucrative crop.  There's the local fresh market, canneries will pay good prices and there are also export markets.

But there's a blight in the asparagus industry that has nothing to do with fungus or insects.  The problem is finding people who are willing to harvest the crop.

A few years ago it was easy to find pickers.  Unemployment in New Zealand was high and people were willing to accept the inevitable sore backs in return for a basic wage.  

And with the bulk of the harvest from October to December, it was also a job that rural women would take on to earn a few extra dollars before Christmas.

But as unemployment dropped, asparagus growers found it harder and harder to find staff - and the government agreed to relax regulations so overseas workers could be brought in on temporary work permits. 

In this episode Country Calendar joins two asparagus growers who are using overseas pickers - one brings in labour from Samoa and the other uses visiting backpackers, mainly from Europe.

Geoff Lewis is one of the biggest asparagus growers in New Zealand, with 70 hectares of the crop near Foxton in Manawatu.  

For the past three years he has arranged for up to 30 workers from Samoa to help with the harvest.  

And he looks after them.  Under the regulations, he must pay them New Zealand rates.  He also has to pay half their air fares and provide a high standard of accommodation.   But Geoff goes further than that.

He has visited Samoa and met the families of the workers he brings to New Zealand.  He insists that his workers have family members already living in New Zealand, or they must have a close association with the congregation at the local Samoan church. 

This means the workers have support as they make adjustments to life in New Zealand, albeit for just three months.

Geoff Lewis finds his workers a delight.  He describes them as hard working, cheerful and grateful for the opportunity to earn what to them are huge pay packets.

George Turney, who grows asparagus in the Kawhatau Valley, near Mangaweka, has found a different solution to the labour shortage - he employs back-packing tourists.

George also looks after his workers.  He has converted a woolshed into a communal living area, built sleeping cabins and installed a spa for those aching muscles.

Like Geoff Lewis, George Turney sings the praises of his overseas workforce.  He says they are indispensable if the asparagus industryis to get its crop to the nation's table.

Other sites to view:

* For  asparagus recipes from Anabelle Langbein, go to 
* For a business profile about asparagus grower Geoff Lewis, go to