Horticultural industry leaders are urging backpackers not to go home. Cherry Growers Association president, Tom Eastlake, said it was important to keep as many overseas workers in the country as possible to support picking and packing operations.
"It is horticulture's biggest concern at the moment," Mr Eastlake said. "If you can't get produce off the tree then you don't even pass go, you finish up there and then."
The federal government announced changes to agricultural visas this week, allowing backpackers currently in the country to extend their stays. However, last Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was time for visitors to leave if they could not secure work.
"The Prime Minister means well, but when he said 'go home if you can't find work', that's counter-productive," Mr Eastlake said. "The people who had applied for working holiday visas for the upcoming season, they're not coming now, they can't get in. We need to keep everyone here that we can and we need to make sure they know there's work available now and throughout the year."
As reported on theland.com.au, the Australian cherry harvest won't begin until mid-October and Mr Eastlake said it was still too far away to know what the impact of COVID-19 was going to be.
But he said what they did know, based on estimated crop volumes, was the employment requirement would be somewhere between 21,000 and 25,000 pickers, that number is excluding permanent staff and casuals doing packing work.