Desperate farmers are offering extraordinary money to out-of-work Australians to help pick their fruit amid a dire labour shortage that threatens their harvest.
Growers are facing the prospect of leaving their produce to rot on trees as COVID-19 travel restrictions brings a 26,000 shortfall of backpacker workers.
The regular influx of foreign workers to pick produce has been brought to a grinding halt, leaving farmers stressed they will lose crops through not having enough hands to collect them.
Guy and Sim Gaeta have grown cherries and apples on their farm outside Orange in central NSW for more than 30 years and are becoming desperate to find more staff.
Farmers are facing the prospect of leaving fruit to rot on trees during harvest (pictured) due to a lack of fruit pickers from a decline in foreign workers amid COVID-19
‘It’s easy to walk away from your crop when it’s no good because it has been destroyed by rain and hail, we’ve done that quite a few times, but to walk away from it because you can’t harvest it is just unheard of,’ Mr Gaeta told A Current Affair.
The couple are calling out to Australians who found themselves out of work through COVID to fill the void left by backpackers on the harvest trail.
At this time of year fruit pickers would normally be migrating from harvesting mangoes in the Northern Territory to bananas in Queensland before picking summer fruits and vegetables along the east coast.
More than $100million worth of mangoes was salvaged after a trial program in September brought 160 pickers from Vanuatu to the Northern Territory to save the harvest.
Farmer Guy Gaeta (pictured) said while the work is tedious, it is not difficult and offers incredible pay
A budget package to be announced next week will allow seasonal workers and backpackers to extend their Australian visas in an effort to aid the labour shortage.
Mr Gaeta said while the work is tedious, it is not difficult and offers an incredible daily pay rate.
‘If they want to come and work, they have the opportunity to earn $200 a day, to $500 a day,’ he said.
If thousands of fruit picking jobs remain vacant, supply and demand will send the price of fruit and vegetables soaring across the country.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government must incentivize local workers into filling the positions that our farmers desperately need.
‘Australians haven’t wanted to take up this work and we’re going to pull out all stocks to try to get those Australians on Jobseeker into these roles,’ he said.
Growers are calling on unemployed Australians to fill thousands of fruit picking roles (pictured) normally taken by backpackers