Drought, fires, virus, labour shortage: Farmers’ next battle
A DRASTIC shortage of seasonal workers is the newest fear plaguing Southern Downs farmers, with many still struggling with the virus outbreak and drought.
Despite easing restrictions, there are concerns that continued border closures could bar or dissuade the thousands of backpackers and fruit pickers who usually flood to the region during harvest season from coming later this year.
While the majority of the region has been free from the coronavirus itself, Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier said a lack of seasonal workers could only be detrimental to the industry.
"We are all highly aware that the likelihood that there will still be restrictions on the movement of people heading into the summer season of 2020-21," Mr Ferrier said.
"I'm trying to get a grasp of what our needs are as a district and an industry across the harvest time of the year, and wherever possible mitigate the risk of an undersupply of labour.
"We think it's enough of a risk to need to be involved with government and industry to try to prevent the problem or at least implement a strategy."
With the more recent bushfires and virus outbreak only exacerbating the protracted drought conditions, Mr Ferrier said a drastic shortage of seasonal labourers would be a "loss for everyone".
"It will cause a competition for labour, which can manifest as an undersupply in crops," he said.
"If people don't have the confidence that they'll have the labour they need to harvest their crops, they will plant less, which isn't good for Aussie consumers.
"Alternatively, they might have problems picking the crops off, which is then a big problem for the producer."
Despite the imminent threat of the seasonal worker shortage and its impact on the region's greater harvest, Mr Ferrier said many producers would have to battle more immediate threats first.
"Drought remains a bigger concern for our members and for our growers than COVID-19, because we're well short of water," Mr Ferrier said.
"There's two unknowns for growers to deal with, and of course we need to control our growing conditions as best we can, and we need government support as best we can.
"We're in the process of trying to understand our requirements as a region and across the country, and we'll go from there."