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Contractor: Industry has ‘died’

William Beetham. PHOTO/FILE

Primary industries struggling


Tourism, events, and primary industries in Wairarapa continue to suffer from the impact of covid-19.

Masterton sound and lighting contractor Ben Brunskill said the event industry had “just completely stopped”, putting him out of work for the foreseeable future.

“There was no slowdown. There’s no industry. It died as of [Monday],” he said.

“We’re all unemployed essentially.

“All the people working in lighting, sound, stage, event management, even people who do temporary fencing and portaloos – there’s no industry anymore.

“It’s pretty unprecedented.

“This is not just affecting the big events, but smaller events are being cancelled left and right.

“I think just with the virus hanging over our heads we’re already self-isolating to some degree.”

Brunskill has been working in the industry for the past 20 years, but full-time for the past five years.

He said he was lucky his wife had a “good job, so there’s no panic for us and our family”.

Brunskill, who is also a member of three bands, said all gigs had been cancelled, with losses amounting to thousands of dollars.

He said business bankruptcies would follow, particularly in event management.

“They’re relying on the next six months to stay out of debt, and there’s nothing on.

“The government response has been quite good.

“I just hope people do responsibly self-isolate if they do get [covid-19] or if they are sick to give those with compromised health a chance.”


For those in farming, it’s a time of uncertainty, Federated Farmers Wairarapa president William Beetham said.

“There’s a lot of farmers who are uncertain about buying store stock because they are not sure of the impact the virus response would have on the value of stock,” he said.

“There are some real concerns about North American and European markets shutting down all at once.

“The other question is whether we will see the current premiums or prices will bottom line for a while.”

Despite these concerns, he said business in China was starting to ramp up and demand for products was growing again.

He said, “if it would just rain, farmers will carry New Zealand through this [economic recession]”.

“People in the rest of the world still want food. People aren’t flowing but food is.”

While much of the country’s meat is exported overseas, paddock-to-plate operating systems were also showing their worth at the Homegrown Butcher, Deli and Pantry in Kuripuni.

Owner Ali Kilmister said they were doing everything they could to keep business running as usual, but had introduced a no charge, no contact delivery service to help vulnerable shoppers.

“In scary unprecedented times as covid-19 plays out, we are all a bit uncertain about the next wee while.

“Healthy eating has never been so important.”

She said those with low immunity, elderly, or just wanted to avoid supermarkets, should contact them on 06 377 7951 to arrange a delivery.

“If we have to shut our front doors, our back doors are still open,” she said.


Wall Horticulture Ltd owner and field manager Panadda Wall said the pandemic had made finding pickers much harder this harvest.

“It is really difficult,” she said.

The contracting company normally hires about 70 people and relies largely on holiday workers.

This year, she had only 30 pickers, most from overseas.

“We have to select people very carefully.”

She urged anyone who was feeling unwell to stay home and seek medical advice.

After the wine harvest, contractors would begin picking corn and she hoped more locals would apply.


Forest Enterprises chief executive Bert Hughes said the pandemic was “on people’s minds” when they came to work, but things were improving as China started to ease work restrictions.

“The usage in China is now measurable whereas a few weeks ago it was a zero.”

Port closures and the drop in logging prices had definitely hit hard though.

“We have had some time off. Our goal at the moment is to run four days a week rather than five.

“We’re trying to keep enough work in front of them so that it’s possible to keep their business going.”

He said while they were not able to move at full speed, it was enough to sustain their business and support the 15 or so logging gangs scattered around the region.

Those on the margins of the industry were the worst affected, he said.

“There are contractors who have no work.”


Meanwhile, as the door is shut on some of Wairarapa’s iconic events, a marketing campaign is under way to remind people that visitors continue to be warmly welcome.

Destination Wairarapa general manager Anna Nielson said ‘Wairarapa – Still Plenty to Do’, was pitched at visitors who had planned to come to the region for an event but were now having second thoughts because the event had been cancelled.

“All the things that people love about Wairarapa such as our fabulous food and wine, big open spaces, stunning scenery, and so on are all still here, ready and waiting to be enjoyed,” Nielson said.

“These events bring lots of visitors to Wairarapa, and our message is, although these events are now no longer running, there is still plenty on offer, so please come.”

Tourism spend contributes about $195 million to the Wairarapa economy, employing around 1500 people.


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