Home' Central District Times : January 17th 2012 Contents 8 CENTRAL DISTRICT TIMES, JANUARY 17, 2012
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Visitors are cream of the crop
Top crop: Pickers from Vanuatu, Ken Frezer from Northern Province, left, and Waina Nakat from Southern Province.
Photos: WARWICK SMITH
Picking and packing
asparagus is a tough job.
Jill Galloway from the
visits George and Simon
Turney at their Kawhatau
Valley property near
Mangaweka to see how
Rest time: Workers play a game of pool before lunch, from left, Paul Dick,
Pascal Rodney and Dorman Kaltapang.
Fresh cut: George Turney with crates of asparagus enroute from field to cool
The top crop at one farm near
Mangaweka has an international
flavour in more ways than one.
Thirty-one workers from Vanuatu
pick asparagus in the morning and
pack in the afternoon on George and
Simon Turney's farm in the
The asparagus is planted on 32
hectares, with an additional 6ha
planted that will come on stream
next spring.The workers are here as
part of the Recognised Seasonal
Employer (RSE) Work Policy, aimed
at filling gaps in the employment
The RSE allows the temporary
entry of workers from overseas to
plant, maintain, harvest and pack
crops in the horticulture and
''They are here for four months,
from the middle of October, through
to the middle of January [when we
need extra staff],'' says Simon
The RSE workers sleep in huts
with bunks, four to a hut, with a
converted woolshed as a living
space. It has a lounge with a tele-
vision, a pool table room, a dining
area and a kitchen.
George Turney, Simon's father,
set up the asparagus farm.
They have been using people from
Vanuatu for the past four years to
pick and pack asparagus.
''Some have been coming every
year. They can make three years'
wages in three months,'' says
Wages for one day's work on the
asparagus farm is the equivalent of
a week over there, he says.
''The people we get are all unem-
ployed. If you are lucky enough to
have a job [in Vanuatu], the average
pay is $2 a day.''
Simon Turney says finding people
to come to New Zealand is not a
problem, but coming up with the
right people, who can cope with the
cultural change, is a tougher ask.
Some have children, and they use
their pay to help with education.
The Kawhatau valley is hidden
from view, and it has a micro-
climate. It is warmer and has less
wind than the surrounding areas --
largely hill country.
It is home to a commercial orch-
ard, and the Turneys are always
thinking about what else might be a
crop that can bring some income.
''For this land, nothing beats
asparagus for its returns,'' says
He says there are not many crops
that farmers are encouraging others
to plant and get into them, but
asparagus is one.
George Turney is chairman of
Asparagus Growers' Association in
In the Kawhatau Valley, the
Turneys are on well draining river
He says the returns from the local
market are dependent on how much
asparagus is around -- and it can be
fickle, with high returns one day,
and low the following week.
It is labour intensive. The aspara-
gus has to be cut each day.
If they wait one day too long and
it becomes too thick and high, and
has to be discarded.
Asparagus is a fern, and the bit
we love to eat is the shoot of the
On average, they get about 240
tonnes of asparagus a year.
''In a day you can get five tonnes,
or nothing, if there has been hail or
a frost,'' says George Turney.
The ni-Vanuatu work force is paid
based on what they pick each morn-
ing. Each person has a crate to pick
into with their name on them.
''They get $9 per crate. So the pay
is between $200 to $1000 a week.
They are also paid for packing.''
The ni-Vanuatu pay the Turneys
for food and accommodation.
For breakfast, there are four
slices of white bread, a cup of tea or
coffee, and jam.
The cook for the day is Bronwyn
Lunch is rice, fish chowder and
hard-boiled eggs. Dinner is rice,
roast pumpkin and mince.
''They love rice, and have it with
every lunch and dinner. And white
bread, not brown or buns. You are
limited in what you can cook and
they like,'' she says.
A cook is employed, but each day
four of the workers will dish up
lunch or dinner. They also do their
The farm used to use local people
to pick asparagus, but it is a busy
time of the year locally, with shear-
ing and docking under way, so the
visitors are a great addition to the
work force. Now, as well as the 31
people from Vanuatu, three local
people also pick.
On the day we visit the Turneys
decide packing won't be necessary,
and instead they announce at lunch
they will all go to Taihape. A cheer
Simon Turney says the workers
have their own routines and things
they enjoy doing.
''They often go down to the river,
and light a fire -- they are great on
the guitar, ukuleles, drum and bass
and are good singers,'' he says.
The remoteness doesn't bother
most of the workers because they
are used to it.
Many come from islands with no
running water, so they are not used
to showers and flush toilets.
But the Turneys say the workers
are keen to learn.
''We have taught them to put up
spouting and tanks.
''On some islands, they get four
metres of rain a year, and catch
none of it. They go to a well, two
kilometres away to get water,'' says
It is often because there is not the
knowledge or the skills to save
water, he says.
One ni-Van went home with a
chainsaw to enable him to make a
better home and the Turneys hope
to send timber so their former
workers can build stronger houses.
''But we don't want to Westernise
them too much. At home they have
a lifestyle where they can relax and
we don't want to change that,'' says
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