Local Framers are worried that global travel restrictions could create labour shortages on local farms; amid growing concern harvests could be lost due to the spread of the coronavirus.
Growers groups say there are no current supply or demand issues for fresh produce. But farmers are looking at a looming labour deficit in an industry that is reliant on seasonal, short-term and foreign workers.
It’s believed that backpackers make up 95 per cent of the workforce on some Queensland farms.
Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner has written to his federal counterpart, David Littleproud, asking the Australian government to change visa requirements to keep backpackers in jobs.
Mr Furner said changes should be treated “as a matter of urgency” to ensure farmers had enough staff “to harvest crops and feed people through this unprecedented outbreak”.
AUSVEG, the industry representative for Australia’s vegetable growers, is supporting calls from the fresh produce industry for the government to immediately extend the visas of vital foreign workers to ensure that growers have the workforce they need to supply fresh fruit and vegetables to Australian consumers.
AUSVEG is calling on support from the federal government to extend visas for workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Working Holiday Makers if they continue to work in agriculture.
“Fruit and vegetables help Australians have a healthy, strong immune system and fresh produce is essential to a healthy, well-balanced diet – Australians need fresh produce and growers need workers to supply this produce to consumers,” said AUSVEG National Manager – Public Affairs Tyson Cattle.
“International workers who came via the Seasonal Workers Program, Pacific Labour Scheme and Working Holiday Makers Program were a vital source of labour in Australian farm sheds and fields.”
Kiribati residents are calling for the government to follow in the footsteps of Marshall Islands and ban all international travel to reduce the risk of the virus spreading there. Kiribati is one of Australia’s biggest suppliers of labour under the federal governments Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS)
In Vanuatu, the caretaker Prime Minister Charlot Salwai announced the suspension of the labour mobility scheme to Australia and New Zealand and a reduction in international flights into the country.
President of the Mareeba Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the Mareeba District Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Joe Moro also agrees that it’s too early to tell what impact Covid-19 may have on Tablelands farmers, “At this stage, there have been no export implications but there may be some labour supply issues, as fewer backpackers come to Australia to work and travel” he said.
“Covid-19 will certainly have an impact but as we can’t tell how long this is going to last, it’s hard to predict the long term effects on growers”