Shoppers to pay for worker shortage


The state’s peak farming body has warned consumers will pay the price this Christmas as worker shortages smash growers.

According to the latest NSW DPI insights report, horticulture exports have fallen by 38 per cent, with COVID-related worker shortages one of the major factors for the decline. The report states at present only 6 per cent of harvest workers are locals, with “the majority drawn from seasonal worker and working holiday visa holders”. 

While the federal government’s announcement that fully-vaccinated backpackers could enter the country from December 1 was welcomed, NSW Farmers Horticulture Committee Chair Guy Gaeta said it had taken too long to get to this point.

“The number of harvest workers has plummeted since the pandemic started, and we have been warning government that there would be a huge problem – well guess what? We’ve got a huge problem,” Mr Gaeta said.

“Borders both here in Australia and around the world have been shut for almost two years, and there have been a lot of announcements but not enough action.

“They politicians need to remember that every day without workers means less fruit, and higher prices as a result.” 

In a good growing season, Mr Gaeta’s cherry farm near Orange typically employs about 50 backpackers to help pick fruit for Christmas tables. This year, he has struggled to recruit a handful of workers – a trend that is being repeated across the country. This shortage of workers is leading to the very real possibility of fruit rotting on trees, cutting back on domestic supply and sending prices skyrocketing.

“Farmers do this job because we want people to enjoy our fruit, and its horrible to think that we may have to throw cherries in the bin because we couldn’t pick them before they spoiled,” Mr Gaeta said.

“I’ve been warning every politician and journalist I’ve spoken to for months now about the situation for this season.

“We need our workers prioritised if we hope to see enough cherries for every Christmas table this year.”

Background

• Table grapes, blueberries and citrus fruits are most vulnerable to labour shortages, according to NSW DPI insights.
• The number of backpackers onshore has reduced by more than 76 per cent from February 2020 to August 2021 – from 143,041 to 34,188. 
• Working holiday maker (WHM) visa holders represent an important segment of Australian tourism sector, injecting money into tourism, retail, transport, hospitality sectors, and they are also provide invaluable labour for the agriculture sector.
• Travellers from the Northern Hemisphere with farming background have been relied upon by the grains sector to support harvest activities. Small and medium horticulture farming businesses that are unable to access the Seasonal Workers Program are also challenged with access to labour with significant labour shortages facing the industry.
• WHMs stay longer and disperse further into regional Australia in their travel, bringing $946 million into regional economies for the year ending December 2019.
• NSW and Victoria have phased out hotel quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated international arrival, therefore the international arrival cap based on hotel capacity is no longer relevant.


Date: Monday, November 22, 2021
Media Contact: Stephen Mudd  | 0429 011 690 | mudds@nswfarmers.org.au