COVID-19 update for horticulture - 26 March

26 Mar 2020 COVID-19 update for horticulture - 26 March image

HortNZ is closely monitoring the COVID-19 coronavirus situation and its potential impact on the horticulture industry. The situation is constantly evolving. Please keep an eye on the HortNZ newsletter as well as our website’s homepage. What follows are our latest updates.

Click here to view HortNZ's COVID-19 response contact list.

Click here to signup to the HortNZ newsletter. 

Click here to view the newsletter archive.


27 March 

Guidance for registering as an essential service 

HortNZ has compiled some guidelines to provide advice to horticulture businesses on the kinds of measures members ought to have in place, and to enforce, if they are to be granted and maintain “essential business” status under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and 4.

Click here to view the guidelines. 

Businesses must register with MPI by 5pm on Friday 27 March here.



26 March 

MPI visiting horticultural operations on Friday 27 March 2020

We have just received notice that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will be visiting packhouses and other horticultural operations across the country from tomorrow.

These are educational visits to help the horticulture industry understand its obligations as an essential service and help with compliance to stop the spread of COVID-19, which is the Government’s chief objective.

That said, MPI appreciates that the horticulture sector has responded positively to the Government’s requirements under Level 4.

MPI officials will visit singularly, may phone ahead and will be from various MPI services. They will keep a 2m distance, are aware of biosecurity issues and the visits will be short. They will be able to answer questions verbally and can email information too.

MPI has also undertaken to improve the registration process. Once the process has been improved, those that have registered will receive confirmation and a registration number via email.

To register, please click here.

In closing

MPI is taking this approach to ensure that horticulture can continue to operate as an essential service and keep people safe, can plan ahead and operate with the future in mind, so our industry is able continue to supply domestic and export markets, now and over the coming months.


MPI Responses for Growers - updated at 5pm 

MPI has responded to further questions and concerns, such as the Safe Practice registration deadlines, processing times, and on non-supermarket distribution of fresh produce.

Click here to view the questions and answers.


MPI Responses for Growers - updated at 11am 

MPI has responded to key grower questions and concerns, such as the definition of a horticulture essential service, the 2m distancing rule, growers and workers who are over 70, and independent fruit and vegetable retailers. 

Click here to view the questions and answers.

Click here to download the essential service employee movement declaration form.


Guidelines for horticulture businesses operating as an essential service

Updated 11.45am 

HortNZ has put together some guidelines on the kinds of measures to have in place, when operating as an essential business under COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

Please note we will update these guidelines as answers to outstanding questions are found.  



25 March 

Please note we continue to talk directly with Ministers and government officials about grower concerns and issues.  

In particular today:

  • Independent fruit and vegetables stores not being allowed to open during the Level 4 response
  • The Prime Minister making a video to reassure the horticulture sector and RSE workers
  • Flexibility around RSE workers – Immigration New Zealand is working on this
  • Workers being able to work in pods due to the current lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).  

Guidelines for horticulture businesses operating as an essential service

HortNZ has put together some guidelines on the kinds of measures to have in place, when operating as an essential business under COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

Please note we will update these guidelines as answers to outstanding questions are found.  

Registration with MPI as an essential service

If your business has five (5) or fewer people at a site (it’s not the number of employees, it’s the total number of people who are there), you do not have to register and you can continue to operate as an essential horticultural service, provided you are taking all required precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Go to the MPI website, here:

Independent Fruit and Vegetable Retailers

Cabinet has decided that these shops are to close.  We have asked for this decision to be re-considered and have offered to help write a paper for Cabinet. 

RSE Visas

The RSE unit had a processing issue yesterday but is now back on line.  If an RSE worker’s visa expires before 2 April, contact the RSE unit to get it extended.  From 2 April, all issued RSE visas will be automatically extended.

Work is still being done regarding all other visas that expire before 2 April.  There is no process in place at present to extend them like the RSE visas.  RSE has been given priority.

The flexibility that has been asked for RSE worker movement is still being worked on but there are no decisions at present.  There is agreement by government that there needs to be flexibility so that is not the issue.

For more information, go here:

Health planning for COVID-19

Click here for a guide to help you keep you and your employees safe. 

Where to get help with how you or others are feeling 

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call the Police immediately on 111.

If you feel you are not coping, it is important to talk with a health professional. For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counselor.  

Other options include: 

RURAL SUPPORT: 0800 787 254

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633

KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

DEPRESSION.ORG.NZ: 0800 111 757 text 4202

How to apply for financial help and where to get financial advice

Income support – outlines what’s available for workers/beneficiaries.

See also wage subsidies and leave payments.  

Business cashflow and tax – outlines support such as depreciation on commercial and industrial buildings; deductions for low value assets; increase in the threshold for small businesses having to pay provisional tax; and waiving interest and penalties on late tax payments for businesses affected by COVID-19. 



24 March


MPI Registrations - more information to come

The Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) has just released information and a process for registering as an essential service. Click here to view the MPI registration.

However, we are seeking clarification on several aspects of this, including the list of essential services and the 2-metre rule.

We are continuing to engage with MPI on answers to your many priority questions. We will update growers via this webpage and via the HortNZ email newsletter as soon as we have more clarification.

HortNZ is preparing guidance for growers and packhouses to help you manage the risk of COVID-19 spread in your business operations. You will be able to adapt this guidance to your specific operation. We will have this guidance to distribute on Wednesday (25 March) afternoon.

In the meantime, please keep an eye on both the MPI and HortNZ websites for more information as it becomes available.


Essential services key questions and risk mitigations

HortNZ has been collating issues and questions from growers and industry organisations to assist in preparing Covid-19 risk management protocols and answering the key questions required by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for growers, packhouses and horticulture industry services to remain in operation.

The priority questions we have asked MPI to answer are to do with aspects of production and other operations:

- How to apply the 2m social distancing rule in an indoor and outdoor environment and other conditions that can be used when exact spacing isn’t practically possible?
- Can growers and other individuals who perform essential services in the horticulture industry who are over 70 years of age be exempt from the governments general instruction of remaining at home?
- Can the horticulture industry be prioritised access to personal protection equipment (PPE), by receiving a statement from MPI that can be used when making PPE orders with suppliers?
- Can independent fresh fruit and vegetable shops remain open?
- Will essential services workers in the horticulture industry need some sort of documentation for movement to/from their places of work? If so, what will they need?

MPI has committed to providing answers to these priority questions as soon as possible, however, we do not know when this will be. In the interim, essential service businesses are asked to use transitional arrangements that progressively move towards higher levels of on-site worker isolation to contain the risk of the virus spread.

There have been many other issues and questions provided to HortNZ. We are progressively clarifying these with MPI and will update the HortNZ website as the official information is received.


Who to contact at HortNZ

HortNZ has set itself up in the following way in response to COVID-19.  Please call or email the person/s noted below if you have questions or concerns that fall into their areas. 

Click here to view HortNZ's COVID-19 response contact list.


RSE visas 

Other categories to be confirmed
In essence, after 2 April 2020, RSE Visas will be extended automatically.  However, for how long has not been confirmed but at least until June 2020. 
Where an RSE visa expires before 2 April 2020, contact the RSE unit or liaison manager and an interim visa will be issued. 

Click here for up-to-date information from Immigration New Zealand.


NZGAP and GLOBALG.A.P. certification during Covid-19 lockdown 

NZGAP is fully operational in a remote capacity and will continue to provide certification services to growers going forward. Key points for growers are:

Follow the usual processes for NZGAP registration and renewal

  • Growers are advised to complete forms online via or via email to given the team are working remotely.
  • Growers are advised to make payments online via internet banking.

Growers can request an extension of up to 5 months

  • Growers can request an extension of up to 5 months for existing NZGAP certification by emailing When renewal is eventually completed, the certification anniversary date will revert to the original anniversary date (plus 1 year).

NZGAP is working with AsureQuality and SGS on development and implementation of remote audit capabilities (more information on this in the coming days).



  • GLOBALG.A.P. has introduced a temporary rule, which will apply for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic: A maximum of 8 months certificate extension to allow AsureQuality or SGS to delay the on-site inspection/audit

  • Contact AsureQuality at or SGS to request an extension

  • The precondition for extension beyond 4 months is a completed remote inspection/audit
  • During the extension period a regular on-site inspection/audit shall take place
  • Certificates issued under extension will be considered valid
  • Certification bodies have been issued with detailed instructions about the procedures to follow the implementation of these temporary rules.



23 March

COVID-19 horticulture industry update following move to Alert Levels 3 and 4

This evening, more than 80 primary sector representatives attended a teleconference hosted by MPI, to discuss essential services in the primary sector. While it hasn’t answered all queries, it has now provided some clarity about continuity of business.

All food and beverage producers and processors, and their supply chains, are deemed to be essential services. Which essential businesses are included in the definition of the supply chain is still being discussed with MPI.

All orchards, packhouses, cool stores and export entities are essential services. You can continue to operate, but there will be strict rules in place that allow you to continue to do so.

A key message from the briefing was that “we can’t change the virus to suit your operational needs; but we can change your operational needs to suit the virus”. The expectation is that you must change the way that you operate (if you haven’t done so already) to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. There must be nowhere in your supply chain that will facilitate the spread of the virus.


Therefore, to remain open for business you must be able to address the following key questions:

• How are you ensuring that your workers are observing social distancing at home, on the way to and from work, and while on breaks?
• How are you ensuring that your staff observe the stay at home rules at the end of each working day?
• What personal hygiene steps do you have in place with your staff?
• What personal protection equipment do you have available for staff?
• What steps have you taken to limit access to the workplace?
• How are you isolating staff to contain the risk of spread (2m rule)?
• What processes do you have in place for staff to report illness or report potential exposure?
• What actions will you take in the event of a confirmed infection?
• What steps have you taken to ensure that staff who are most at risk (i.e. over 70’s) identify and isolate themselves?

All businesses will be required to register with MPI and provide answers to these questions. The online registration system will be available in the next day or so.

If you cannot answer these questions satisfactorily, you will not be able to remain open.

If you have members of your staff that are not essential, they should stay home.


We will be working with product groups and other sector groups with urgency, to look at supporting your businesses to address these questions. In the meantime, please do not inundate MPI with questions – refer queries to your product groups, district associations or HortNZ.


If you are an apple and/or pear grower, you can access specific information here.

Likewise, if you are a kiwifruit grower, you can access industry specific information here.

If you are growing potatoes, please go here.

And for avocado growers, information for your industry is here.


Breaking news - 1:30pm 23/3/20

The Prime Minister has just announced that New Zealand has moved to COVID-19 Alert Level 3 with a move to Alert Level 4 to take place in 48 hours. 
We will update growers later today with what this means for the operation of the horticulture industry, once we have met with government officials. 


COVID-19 and domestic fresh vegetable and fruit supply

Domestic demand for fresh vegetables and fruit is at an all-time high thanks to ever growing concern about COVID-19 and restrictions on public activity.  At the same time, it is critical that growers and packhouses proactively manage heightened risk levels, to safeguard themselves, their employees and their businesses.

Apple and Pear growers have specific advice.  Please click here to access this information. 

Kiwifruit growers also have specific advice.  Please click here to access this information.

Avocado growers, please click here to view the New Zealand Avocado website.


RSE workers – good news 

The Government has just decided that RSE visas due to expire within two weeks will be automatically extended by two months.  

Immigration New Zealand will be in touch with all RSE employers about this.  Immigration is working in two-week cycles – they will only deal with the next two weeks first.  

We understand that the normal application process will not apply.  Details on how to apply will come directly from Immigration New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand has also set up a webpage specifically for RSE workers and employers, click here to access.


Staying up to date

The Ministry of Health is leading New Zealand’s response to COVID-19.  Click here to go to the webpage that they have specially set up.

Click here to go to more information about the COVID-19 alert levels.

We understand that the horticulture industry can continue to operate at Level 3.  Protocols are being developed.  We have made a very strong request to the Government that the horticulture industry can also continue to operate at Level 4.  

There is a wealth of other information and advice on the Ministry of Health website, including the latest advice for workspaces like packhouses. Click here to view.


Health and safety, and food safety 

Paramount at any time, health and safety, and food safety are even more important now.  Here is some practical advice.  

General cleaning information for COVID-19

The Ministry of Health has provided this advice (click here), for areas in which there are lots of people.   

Identifying symptoms

The Australian Government has provided advice to help identify COVID-19 from a cold or the flu, click here to view. 


Staying on top of things in the packhouse

Click here to view a sample of what you could adapt for your operations.  Mr Apple is thanked for allowing us to use their information.

For Tongan workers, click here for a translated information sheet.

For Samoan workers, click here for a translated information sheet.

Click here for translated information for Pacific workers, and click here for additional languages.


COVID-19 and fresh fruit and vegetables 

New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre (NZFSSRC) has reviewed all available information on foodborne transmission of COVID-19, and has concluded that there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packagingClick here to view the findings.  

Various organisations are reminding the public of the proven health benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables.



The horticulture industry is communicating directly with government officials and Members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister who has been asked to make a video for the industry and particularly, our RSE workers.  

The key issues raised so far are:

- how we can continue to operate at COVID-19 Alert Levels 3 and 4 and the protocols for that

- visa extension and RSE flexibility for the workers in country (we’ve asked for automatic extensions).  

We have stressed to the Government that the distribution network needs to remain active and in good shape so fresh fruit and vegetables can get through to the supermarkets.  

If you want to raise concerns, please do so via your product group or district association or directly with HortNZ.  


Staying well 

These are uncertain times for all New Zealanders.  It is important to stay connected and talk about how things are going, and how you and the people around you are feeling.

The Mental Health Foundation has some practical advice about this, click here to view.  


Government support

Click here to find out more about the financial support that the Government is offering businesses in industries such as horticulture. 




19 March


Temporary border closure

All temporary visa holders, including work visa holders, can no longer enter New Zealand as of Friday 19 March.

Industry is working with Immigration New Zealand to seek extensions for existing RSE work visas which are due to expire so that visa-holders may remain in New Zealand if they wish.


Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) information

Immigration New Zealand has compiled a website with key information for RSE workers. This website will be updated as more information becomes available.

Click here to access the Immigration New Zealand resource.


New Government COVID-19 Website 

The New Zealand Government has released an official website called Unite Against Covid-19. The website has everything you need to know about COVID-19 in one place. Find out what help is available and get the latest updates. 

 Click here to access the resource, or go to



19 March


The Vanuatu government has suspended the Recognised Employer Scheme (RSE) for 60 days, with the longer-term situation being reviewed after 30 days.

The Australian equivalent to the RSE scheme, the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), are also affected by this decision.

What this means:

Workers with no issued visa cannot take part in the RSE scheme until the situation changes.

RSE workers already in New Zealand are being encouraged to stay and complete their full seasonal contract.

All workers have access to the New Zealand health system.

Workers who haven’t left Vanuatu and have a visa issued can choose whether or not to travel.
Workers are free to return to Vanuatu but must comply with Vanuatu border controls on arrival.



18 March


Government Support

The business continuity package announced by the Government will help businesses to keep operating.  Wage support and tax measures are focused in key areas of need:

Wage subsidies (applications via the Ministry for Social Development, MSD)
- $558 per week for a full-time worker
- $350 per week for part-time worker

Leave payment scheme (applications via MSD)
Sick pay at $585 per week for full-time workers and $350 per week for part-time workers, for 14 days for those self-isolating, and for the entire period of sickness for those who contract COVID-19.

This is for all employees, the self-employed and contractors (but not for those who can work from home), where the business has had a 30% or greater decline in revenue due to COVID-19, month-on-month for any month between January and June 2020.

For more information from Work and Income, click here.



To mitigate the effects of potential labour shortages, HortNZ is continuing to work with the Chairs of the Regional Labour Groups, MSD and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to assess labour requirements in horticulture across the regions.

The aim is to fill gaps with people who are not currently in work in other industries like forestry, who have transferable skills relevant to horticulture. 

The movement of people is becoming tightly restricted, with countries around the world closing borders or imposing rules on travellers.

Anyone who has travelled overseas to countries, excluding most (see below) Pacific Island countries, are being advised to self-isolate for 14 days.  Travellers from Pacific Island countries and territories (listed below) are only advised to self-isolate if they are unwell or develop flu-like symptoms. 

The Vanuatu government is currently assessing the situation for their RSE workers and is expected to release a statement in the coming days.

Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna. 

For more information, click here.



There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.  However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices when working with food.  

Employers should:
•    ensure staff are aware of the COVID-19 issue
•    stay informed of staff who have been overseas to affected regions or in contact with persons who have, and seek appropriate medical advice
•    ensure that food handlers are trained appropriately in food hygiene practices appropriate to their premises
•    ensure effective supervision of food handlers to reinforce hygienic practices
•    ensure that appropriate facilities are provided for hand washing or sanitation (e.g. alcohol gels/wipes) to enable food handlers to practice good hygiene
•    ensure that food handlers and external contractors are aware that they must report any signs/symptoms of respiratory illness before or during work
•    keep vigilant and ensure that food handlers and other staff are not ill and are fit to work
•    ensure that staff with symptoms stay home until medical advice is obtained
•    support staff with access to medical advice and recovery.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)


Eating healthy & buying local

Although these are uncertain times, it is an opportunity to remind people of the benefits that eating New Zealand fruit and vegetables has to offer. People need to eat, and eating a healthy diet with at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day helps boost immune systems and a sense of wellbeing. Encouraging consumers to buy local produce will also help support local businesses and jobs.



There are no additional sanitary or phytosanitary requirements are required for the export of products to China.

Businesses which export products are being advised to consider possible risks to their supply chain logistics such as port/border closures in Europe or shipping container availability.

MPI has received confirmation from food safety, customs, and animal and plant quarantine officials stating that there are no changes to their customs and import clearance procedures.

For more information from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, click here.



The Government has advised that public events and gatherings of 500 or more people should be cancelled.

Additionally, any indoor event of 100 or more people should also be cancelled.

We are assessing all the events that we had planned for this year in light of the Government’s advice and growing public and stakeholder concerns.

We will continue to post event updates in this newsletter.


Below are links to information about Coronavirus that should be of use to growers

General health information

Ministry of Health
World Health Organisation

Information for business

Worksafe – Workplace preparedness for Coronavirus
Business.govt – Information for businesses
Immigration NZ – Immigration update
NZTE – Information for exporters

Food Safety

MPI - Coronavirus and food safety



10 March



HortNZ is working with the Chairs of the Regional Labour groups, the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) to assess the labour requirements that could be left unmet, as a result of global restrictions on the movement of people.

MSD and MBIE want to fill these gaps with people who are not currently in work in other industries like forestry, who have transferable skills relevant to horticulture.

“There are opportunities in the horticulture and wine industries for New Zealanders who no longer have work due to Coronavirus,” says HortNZ Chief Executive Mike Chapman.

“Anyone in this position wanting work should contact local growers or visit Work the Seasons because we have important jobs that are available now.

“At the same time, given that one third of the food we eat in New Zealand is imported and our reliance on seasonal labour, the country needs to develop an active contingency, resilience and self-sufficiency plan. This is not just a role for Government. It is everyone’s responsibility to be part of a much needed resilience plan for New Zealand.”

To listen to an interview with Nikki Johnson (NZKGI) about the possible impact of Coronavirus on the kiwifruit harvest on RNZ Rural News, click here.

Employers should list their vacancies on Work the Seasons (

Apple and Pear growers have specific advice.  Please use this information: