Cherries at Christmas and peach-topped Pavlovas are as Australian as backyard cricket, but the nation’s summer fruit harvest is again under threat.
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says fruit growers from Carnarvon to Coffs Harbour will struggle to source the people power they need to get fruit from paddock to plate.
“Our magnificent peaches, nectarines, mangoes and cherries are almost ripe for the picking,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
“Unfortunately, many farmers face the very real prospect of leaving fruit on the vine, unable to source the labour they need.
A workforce shortage really has the industry in a jam – and not in a good way.
This week there was light at the end of the tunnel, with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud supporting the NFF’s call for a specialised Agricultural Visa, in his speech at a breakfast event hosted by the Queensland Rural Press Club.
— Rural Press Club QLD (@RuralPressClub) September 6, 2018
“An Agricultural Visa would cater specifically for the acute skills shortages facing agriculture, including fruit pickers and packers. Our sector already relies heavily on migrant labour.
Ms Simson said the industry was committed to developing a domestic labour force but this alone was not the answer.
Research and experience demonstrates that we need migrant workers to meet the farm sector’s needs.
“Many agricultural tasks are short-term and/or seasonal. Often these arrangements aren’t attractive to local workers, who have ongoing financial commitments and longer term career aspirations.”
Ms Simson said Australian fruit was in high demand internationally.
“Citrus was one of the big winners from the recent Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) and nectarine growers are benefiting for improved access to China.
“However, if we don’t have the people-power needed to get fruit from paddock to plate, the complete benefits of these opportunities won’t be realised.
“We’re calling on a bi-partisan approach to putting the policy settings in place needed to ensure farmers can do what they do best – feed the world,” Ms Simson said.