HELP NEEDED: Without the help of fruit picking English tourists like Tammy Pedrick (front right) with Danny Smith (left) there are concerns about the future. Aaron Francis/The Australian
HELP NEEDED: Without the help of fruit picking English tourists like Tammy Pedrick (front right) with Danny Smith (left) there are concerns about the future. Aaron Francis/The Australian

Farm worker shortfall threatens CQ’s agricultural industry

MUCH like the rest of the state, Central Queensland's agricultural industry could be headed for devastation this year if a solution can't be found to replace the international farm workers who are locked out of Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

A group of Federal National Party MPs have spoken out about the issue, saying farmers and producers relied on large numbers of overseas workers to help them harvest their crops and with working holiday maker numbers in Australia already significantly reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic, alternative ways were needed to secure a workforce.

Minister for Northern Australia Keith Pitt, Assistant Minister for Northern Australia Michelle Landry, Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd, Dawson MP George Christensen and Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch have written to Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner to ask the Queensland Government to work collaboratively with the Federal Government on finding solutions to the issue.

Senator Matt Canavan, Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry are worried for Queensland’s farmers if a solution can’t be found for the worker shortage.
Senator Matt Canavan, Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry are worried for Queensland’s farmers if a solution can’t be found for the worker shortage.

Mr Pitt said this was an opportunity for the Federal Government and Queensland State Government to work together on a common goal.

"With an estimated gross value of farm production in 2019-20 of $60 billion, the agriculture industry is vital to Australia. None of us want to see the industry suffer from a workforce shortage and have crops rot on the ground and on the trees," Mr Pitt said.

"I have had local farmers tell me that they will have to start making decisions about future crops and without a secure workforce, these will be tough decisions.

"In the current environment, every job is a good job and people need to take the work that is offered. There are career opportunities working in agriculture, not just picking, its forklift driving, machinery operation, maintenance, administration, sales and the list goes on," Mr Pitt said.

Ms Landry said the COVID-19 pandemic had adversely affected all sectors in the Queensland economy.

"Unfortunately, the agricultural sector has not been immune to coronavirus. Our growers and farmers need the certainty of knowing that all of the governments who are elected to represent them, are all on the same page and are all committed to addressing this issue," Ms Landry said.

>> READ: Capricornia farms benefit from working VISA changes

>> READ: Seasonal workers flock to fruit farms for harvest

>> READ: Stepping up the fight against Capricornia's pests and weeds

Isaac Norve from Vanuatu picks cherries at Lucaston Park Orchard in Cradoc as part of the Seasonal fruit pickers program. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Isaac Norve from Vanuatu picks cherries at Lucaston Park Orchard in Cradoc as part of the Seasonal fruit pickers program. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Mr O'Dowd said numerous farmers and producers in his electorate were very concerned for the future with getting the crops to market.

"As we are in uncharted waters it is important to work with all levels of government to assist our farmers in getting the best outcome and allowing them to get the fruit off the trees and produce to our tables," Mr O'Dowd said.

"For the foreseeable future agriculture will depend on a combined local and foreign workforce. With appropriate quarantine arrangements in place, seasonal and Pacific workers can continue to safely support Australian farmers facing critical workforce shortages. We are fortunate that some of these workers have chosen to stay in our country."

Mr Christensen said the priority was providing primary producers with the support they needed.

"I have the largest winter vegetable-growing region in my electorate and I know these people want to see their prime produce make it to market."

In April, the Morning Bulletin reported that Capricornia's businesses and communities would benefit from changes to extend working holiday maker and other visas amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Queensland's Agricultural Minister Furner responded to the MPs saying any co-operation on these issues was welcome.

Minister Mark Furner at the Qualipac packing sheds. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL
Minister Mark Furner at the Qualipac packing sheds. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

"Agricultural labour supply is a national issue and I hope that Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud's colleagues are successful in dragging him back to the table with my fellow state ministers," Mr Furner said.

"Queensland will continue to work closely with industry, including the Agricultural Coordination Group with more than 70 industry bodies and representatives, to identify issues and put forward solutions.

"I welcome the strong support we have already received from industry and we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

"Agriculture is an essential industry and the Queensland Government will continue to ensure that our food supply chain remains strong and productive while keeping Queenslanders safe."



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