(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand’s kiwifruit harvest has fallen short of expectations after poor weather affected yields and growers struggled to find the migrant labor normally used to pick the vines.

Harvest volume is now expected to be less than the record 177 million trays picked in 2021, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc said in a statement Tuesday in Wellington. Original forecasts were for 190 million trays. A tray holds 30 pieces of fruit.

A lower harvest adds to pressure on returns for the nation’s 2,800 kiwifruit growers, who already face rising costs from fuel, shipping and wages as well as a shortage of labor. The industry contributed NZ$2.2 billion ($1.4 billion) to the New Zealand economy in 2021, the growers’ group said.

“Growers and the wider industry were under immense pressure to ensure that New Zealand’s kiwifruit were harvested,” said Chief Executive Colin Bond. “The success of the 2022 harvest hinged on the ability for industry’s supply chain to operate effectively with a restricted labor supply under changing Covid-19 settings.”

The industry normally relies on about 24,000 seasonal workers augmented by 6,500 young foreigners usually in the country on working holidays. That supply was disrupted by border closures and the wave of omicron infections that hit the community just as the picking season began in March. 

While the industry was able to get some migrant workers from Pacific island nations, it increasingly relied on New Zealanders. Growers and packhouses needed to significantly lift pay rates to attract more local workers, Bond said.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.