Farmers in Australia are having to abandon fields of unpicked crops due to a shortage of casual labour.
The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically reduced the number of people available to do the seasonal work.
Aussie farmers rely on bringing in teams of helpers from the Pacific islands, supplemented by backpackers visiting the country on a gap year, but both are in short supply this season.
While some Australian states have been able to bring in a limited supply of labour from abroad, many farmers are receiving no help – leading to frustration and potentially huge losses.
The pandemic has seen a shortfall of 26,000 seasonal workers – leading to crops in some areas withering before they can be picked.
The labour shortage is particularly acute in Victoria and New South Wales.
Horticulture body Ausveg has become increasingly annoyed at the lack of action by the authorities.
Its public affairs manager Tyson Cattle said: “We have been talking about this issue since February and warning of a worker shortage on farms unless something is done.
“We need thousands, tens of thousands, more workers and we needed them yesterday – already Queensland crops have been left in the field to die.”
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, however, is blaming the states for the situation.
He said the government was ready to stamp the visas of foreign workers but that the state authorities had failed to come up with any large-scale quarantine arrangements.
New South Wales Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall, however, blamed Mr Littleproud for the lack of action.
“It beggars belief that the Federal Agriculture Minister is passing the buck onto the states when what we actually need is national leadership on this issue,” he said.
“The Federal government continues to sit on its hands saying this is a matter for industry, but they control our international borders and have the ability to authorise travel bubbles — not the states.”
Western Australian table grape grower Fruitico is facing one of its largest ever crops but only has the help of just over 100 seasonal workers – a third of its normal workforce.
Chief executive Roger Fahl said the company expects to pick more than 500,000 cartons of grapes.
“It’s only about a third of our workforce, so we’re still chasing a whole lot of staff, but the seasonal workers do give us nine months of a stable workforce,” Mr Fahl said.
“That’s the reality of it at the moment. I don’t think any grower in the state will have enough workforce to get all the crops off.
“Companies will pick what they can and if there are shortages it will means price rises.”
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