Crop Farm Worker
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Crop farm workers assist with the raising and harvesting of fruit, vegetables and grains on farms and in orchards, vineyards and hothouses. They may work year-round or do seasonal work.
Crop farm workers usually earn
$16-$18 per hour
Crop farm workers who supervise others usually earn
$18-$25 per hour
Permanent full-time workers
- Crop farm workers without experience or qualifications usually start on the minimum wage or a little more.
- With two to three years' experience, or a qualification, their pay may increase to between $17 and $18 an hour.
- Crop farm workers who supervise others can earn from $18 to $25 an hour.
- Most seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers are paid according to how much they pick, and this depends on their speed. It is possible for fast pickers to earn the equivalent of $20 an hour.
- Seasonal workers who are paid by the hour typically start on the minimum wage or a little more.
Pickers and pruners who are prepared to travel and follow the harvest trail around New Zealand, shifting to a new region as each crop ripens, can earn up to $50,000 a year.
- PAYE.net.nz website – use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Crop farm workers may do some or all of the following:
- prepare soil for planting
- plant crops such as grains, fruit or vegetables
- maintain crops, which may involve weeding, hoeing, spraying, pruning, thinning, fertilising and watering
- check for pests and diseases, and control these
- harvest, sort and pack crops
- operate vehicles, such as fork-lifts, tractors and two and four-wheel motorbikes
- assist with general maintenance of buildings, fences and other structures.
Skills and knowledge
Crop farm workers need knowledge of:
- growing and harvesting crops
- crop diseases, weeds and pests and how to control them
- local climate and weather conditions
- food safety, market certification and quality requirements
- applying agricultural fertilisers and chemicals
- general maintenance and basic mechanics
- assessing fruit or vegetables for ripeness, damage, or size.
Crop farm workers:
- usually work regular business hours, but may work long or irregular hours, especially during the harvesting period
- work on farms, orchards and vineyards
- work outside in most weather conditions
- may have to travel to follow seasonal work.
What's the job really like?
Elena Ulugia - Crop Farm Worker
Elena Ulugia is in her third season of picking apples. Recently, she added tree thinning and tree training to her set of skills.
"Thinning is picking off the bad fruit to make sure there aren't too many apples on one branch. This way you get better fruit. And tree training is preparing the branches so they grow in a Christmas tree shape. This work is done on an hourly rate, but for apple picking I get paid a bin rate – by the number of bins I fill."
Having a sense of control over the job
Being paid by the bin gives Elena a sense of control over her job, she says. "When I'm picking, I'm out there doing my own thing, and it's up to me what pace I want to work at. Because I get paid per bin I fill, I know that it's up to me how much money I earn. I can set my own goals. It's different from other jobs I've done where it's more about how much time you are there for."
Watch Hugh Morrissey-Brown find out what it's like working in a huge hothouse - 8.26 mins. (Video courtesy of Primary Industry Training Organisation)
Clinton: Well, Hugh's come to New Zealand Hothouse, just south of Auckland, to learn about the job of a vegetable grower. The hothouse is one of the biggest glasshouse producers in the southern hemisphere and one of the most technically advanced in the world.
Jason: Hi Hugh, My name's Jason. I’m from NZ Hothouse, welcome. Well you won’t need your jersey; she’s pretty hot in these greenhouses. Come with me, let’s go.
Clinton: Head grower Jason Culbert is on hand to show Hugh that there’s much more to a career in today’s vegetable production industry than simply harvesting the crop.
Hugh: How many plant are grown in one section?
Jason: In one of these units alone we can growing up to 50,000 plants and we have seven sections on this property so we’re growing well over 200,000 plants just on this site alone.
Clinton: With such intensive cultivation on the site, the technology involved in keeping production up is immense. First lesson to learn, the plants are hydroponic – there’s no soil. The tomatoes grow in precisely measured nutrient rich water. But the technology’s for later. First, it starts with the basics.
Jason: When we’re picking tomatoes we pick to a certain colour. With this particular variety we’re just picking to what we call “half colour”, so it’s not too green and not too red, so we leave those ones there, that’s just too hard.
Clinton: Everybody starting out in this industry has to begin with getting their fingers green in the hothouse.
Jason: Alright Hugh, so the next job we’re going to do today is de-leafing, and the reason why we de-leaf – as the plants grow and they’ve dropped down we need to take leaves of so we can see the tomatoes for picking, and we just snap the leaves off and we just simply remove two leaves per plant.
Jason: Alright, Hugh, there’s 360 plants in this row so I’ll leave you this row and I’ll go and have my smoko break, cheers!
Jason: The exciting thing about this job is you get up every day and come to work and you actually enjoy what you're doing. A lot of people out there don't enjoy their jobs, whereas I really enjoy this job, and get a kick out of it. I feel like I'm only still a child in this industry. It's such a lifelong career, you're continually learning and that's what keeps you going at the end of the day.
Jason: Before we can get on these trolleys to do our next task, we’ve got to do some trolley training.
Clinton: There’s safety to read about, and buttons for forwards, reverse, an accelerator foot-pedal and up and down.
Jason: Alright, so the most important thing obviously is our emergency cut-out switches, so if we ever have a problem…
Clinton: There’s three jobs to be done now they’re up in the air.
Jason: This is a job that is done as you gain more experience – it’s called twisting and layering. We twist the string around the plant and then we layer the plant. So we just grab the bobbin, release it and drop it down. So you can imagine the plants are layered down the row because they grow about that much a week, about 25-30cm, depending on the week.
Clinton: The vine can grow up to 20 metres long and the stem is coiled around the bottom. Once a year the old plant is discarded and a new one grown.
Jason: The other job that we do as well – we’re going to put truss clips on our trusses and then we’re going to prune each truss to a certain number of fruit, alright?
Jason: Grab a truss like this and then clip it on. OK, once we’ve done that, then we can prune the truss, ok? So for tomatoes in this house, we’re pruning to five. This truss has six fruit, so we remove one flower off the end of that truss. The importance of doing this is uniformity, so what happens if we didn’t put a clip on then the trusses can kink and we get many different sizes of tomatoes. So we want everything the same.
Jason: Alright Hugh, away you go!
Jason: Horticulture tends to be high risk because losing a crop is something we don’t want to have happen but in these modern greenhouse we have quite good controls with the computer systems and with the experience so with the high tech operations we are able to achieve high production.
Clinton: The entire complex reacts to the weather outside. Vents in the roof open and close, the huge boilers provide warmth when it’s cool, carbon dioxide created by combustion is spread around doubling what’s normal. This promotes plant growth.
Jason: This basically is the heart of the operation. This is where we can see everything and control everything in the greenhouse, alright? So what you can see here is we can see that we’ve got environmental data for each compartment and also irrigation data for each compartment. So we can see exactly what's happening in every module. We also have the ability to see as graphs excatly what's happening.
Clinton: With such a wide range of science involved comprehensive training is essential. Horticulture training adviser Louise Cooper is here to assess assistant grower Bobby Nijjar.
Louise: The advice I would give to anyone who is looking at entering the vegetable production industry is to get out there and take your CV around to try to get and after school job, talk to the people that are already in the industry about what the job involves – really just getting in there and giving it a go and getting hands-on.
Hugh:So what do you enjoy about your job?
Bobby: This is the best spot that I've ever found working since I've been in New Zealand.
Clinton: Today Bobby’s keeping Hugh busy with bee distribution.
Hugh: So there are bees in here?
Bobby: Yes, there are bees in here.
Clinton: Using bumblebees to pollinate produces rounder, more consistent fruit.
Clinton: When the bees are working the hothouse can’t spray – insecticides will kill them. So they’ve had to look for natural methods of pest control.
Jason: The challenges of growing is pests and disease. That’s a big challenge and in this company we’re working towards getting away from spraying so when we do spray we use things like soaps, we use sticky traps on trolleys, we do a lot of scouting so that’s the name of the game, that’s my personal objective is to not spray the tomatoes.
Clinton: To reduce the problem of whitefly, parasitic wasps have been introduced. They inject their eggs into the larvae of whitefly, which kills them.
Clinton: Unwanted bugs could cause whole shipments of export fruit to be rejected, so in the packhouse, checking for unwanted pests is an important part of quality controller Jamie Anderson’s job.
Jamie: We’re checking for quality and insects. What you want to do is check the entire tomato to make sure there are no insects, whatsoever, and also for quality – splits, grazing, branch rub...
Clinton: This $1.5 million packhouse grading machine is state-of-art. Each piece of fruit is photographed, very accurately measured, and colour-tested too. The data is fed to a computer which chooses a bin for a particular colour and size.
Brett: If you get stuck in the past and you just kept doing things the way you did them yesterday, I think you’ll get left behind because with technology, things are just motoring along.
Brett: I think what we’d like to see in this industry is young people coming in who are innovative, up to speed with technology, can take technology on. Older guys like me, we've been dragged along with the technology but I love to see some of the younger people coming along and they're just already up to speed with computers, and they're saying "Look, have you thought of doing this or doing that", or we can add some value, we can do Facebook, so we need people with those sort of talents that can bring that to the business.
Clinton: So it’s been pretty full-on for Hugh, how’s he done?
Jason: He did really well, he picked it up pretty quick – particularly with the clipping which is quite a hard job to master and we need those sort of people in this operation.
Hugh: Some of the interesting stuff I learnt about this place is how much it actually takes to run this, like the amount of people and the amount of technology that is used and the amount of effort that's put in just to grow tomatoes is phenomenal.
Clinton: There’s a shortage of school leavers entering the vegetable industry so job opportunity is there. You have to start with basics, but with training and some technical ability, career progression is excellent. Horticulture is an important part of the New Zealand economy and the demand for quality food continues to grow.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a crop farm worker. However, horticultural knowledge or experience is useful.
Crop farm workers who have good work ethics and the right attitude are supported by some employers to do an in-house training programme or gain horticulture qualifications through the Primary ITO, or local tertiary provider.
- Primary ITO website - information on vegetable production training
- Primary ITO website - information on fruit production training
Watch Shane talk about his experience of gaining horticulture qualifications - 1.38 mins. (Video courtesy of Primary ITO)
Useful subjects include maths, science subjects and horticulture. Year 11-13 students can achieve unit standards in horticulture through the Primary ITO Gateway programme. They may also work towards national certificates in horticulture through the New Zealand Trade Academy, while still working toward NCEA. This usually includes off-site learning and some on-the-job training.
- Primary ITO website - information on horticultural training opportunities with the Gateway programme
- Primary ITO website - information on the NZ Primary Industries Trades Academy
Crop farm workers need to be:
- efficient and practical
- able to work as part of a team
- able to follow instructions.
“It’s important to remember to stretch repeatedly during the day to avoid aches and pains in the first few days.”
Marya Hopman - Pick NZ Regional Relationships Manager, Hawke’s Bay
Useful experience for crop farm workers includes:
- gardening work
- any work involving physical labour
- any outdoor work such as farm work
- sports or other outdoor activities.
Crop farm workers need to be reasonably fit, with strong arms and backs, as they may have to do long periods of physical work. They should not have any allergies to plants, pollen, chemicals or fertilisers.
Find out more about training
- Horticulture New Zealand
- (04) 472 3795 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.hortnz.co.nz/
- Primary Industry Training Organisation
- 0800 208020 - email@example.com - www.primaryito.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Growth in horticulture exports likely to create more jobs for crop farm workers
More crop farm workers will be needed over the next five years, particularly in under-cover vegetable growing and vineyards, because:
- more land has been earmarked for horticultural production
- the export market to Asia is increasing, and horticulturalists aim to increase export production to $10 billion by 2020
- the Government has invested $36 million in a programme to increase kiwifruit production, which runs until 2017.
Seasonal peaks in demand for crop farm workers
Demand for crop farm workers depends largely on the season. Different crops are harvested at different times of year, but on the whole:
- in spring and winter fewer crops are harvested, and jobs are harder to come by
- during the main harvesting seasons of summer and autumn, thousands more workers are needed.
However, some crop farms are well coordinated enabling workers to transfer to other crop farms so that they get more work than a single harvest, or season.
Your best chance of getting work is to contact employers directly. Some overseas workers may qualify to be recruited under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. This allows registered employers to recruit overseas workers, if they cannot get New Zealand workers to fill vacancies.
Types of employers varied
Crop farm workers can work for:
- orchardists and grape (wine) growers
- fruit and vegetable growers
- grain farmers
- flower growers.
A variety of companies work in these industries, from small family-run businesses to large nationwide companies.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Recognised Seasonal Employers', accessed January 2015, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Kemp, P, 'NZ needs more horticulture professionals', NZ Farmer, November 2014, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- MacDonald, E, HR manager, Crasborn Fresh Harvest Ltd, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2014.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2014.
- Statistics New Zealand, ‘Census of Population and Dwellings’, 2014 (www.stats.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Crop farm workers may progress to become team leaders, shift supervisors or move into quality control roles.
They may specialise in a particular stage of crop farming, such as rearing, picking, pruning or packing fruit or vegetables. They may also specialise in a certain type of crop – for example, apples or grapes.
Those who complete horticultural qualifications may move into a managerial role.
Last updated 7 May 2017