Crop losses across Australia, directly as a result of ongoing labour shortages, have continued to mount over the festive season and have now topped $38 million. The National Lost Crop Register was launched in mid-December to capture the true cost to industry and the national economy from a lack of seasonal workers available to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables.
A total of fifty-five growers from five separate states and territories have anonymously reported their losses to date. A wide array of crops are represented on the Register, including berries, tomatoes, carrots, citrus, bananas, pumpkins, chilli and leafy green vegetables. Two individual reports, from one fruit and another vegetable grower, have exceeded $10 million.
“Our belief is that reports to the Register so far are just the tip of the iceberg. As awareness of the Register grows and as labour supply remains tight, the recorded losses will likely only increase,” said Richard Shannon, Manager of Policy and Advocacy at peak industry body Growcom.
“This is important evidence that will be used to inform decision-making and improve the ability of industry to collectively advocate for greater government intervention.”
Growers grapple with insufficient labour
Fresh Produce Group have reported losses to their Queensland blueberry operations of just under $3 million.
Executive Director Anthony Poiner said despite their best recruitment efforts they were left short 150 harvest staff during their main season, meaning a tough decision to leave 20 hectares unpicked in order to concentrate on the rest of the farm.
“I conservatively estimate that we left over 400 tones of blueberries out in the field. We put all the effort and cost to grow this crop, and just had to walk away from so much,” said Dr Poiner.
“The experience has been very demoralising for our team. We experienced extreme drought, a massive bushfire ripped through one farm, and then when we needed to harvest, we experience these worker shortages.
“Altogether it’s been an exceptionally challenging 12 months. Unfortunately the challenges are not over. We are currently harvesting raspberries and blueberries in Tasmania, and we are about to start grape harvest in Mildura and West Australia.
“It remains relentlessly challenging to gain full attention of all the levels of authority to allowing us to get the harvest staff to these locations. One of the more irritating incidents was having a large number of our regular harvest workers, people who have been integral to our harvest team every year, trapped on the NSW side, unable to get across the border despite being in a region with zero COVID cases. I just hope we can get the right responses in time so we don’t have to lose more of our crops due to labour shortages.”
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