Lost crop register reaches $50 million
The shortage of seasonal harvest labour in Australia continues to choke the productivity of the horticulture industry, with the National Lost Crop Register now topping $50 million.
Growers from all around the country continue to report losses as a direct result of insufficient labour for harvest. Reports have come from banana growers in North Queensland, vegetable growers in Victoria, melon and grape growers in Western Australia, mango growers in the Northern Territory and most crops and regions in between.
The register is run by Queensland’s peak horticulture body Growcom for the National Farmers Federation. Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard says that not only is the current labour shortage impacting businesses and livelihoods today; a lack of confidence in steps taken by government to resolve the shortage is causing many growers to reconsider and reduce their plans for future production.
“We are hearing from a significant proportion of growers who have already experienced crop losses due to a lack of labour that they are, perhaps unsurprisingly, looking at cutting back production, and some in a big way” Barnard says.
Our food security at risk
The register allows growers to anonymously report whether or not they plan to reduce their production over the next six months because of a shortage of labour.
Four in 10 growers said they were planning to reduce their production by 10 to 50 percent. A further seven percent said they were slashing their production by more than half. Just under 40 percent reported they’d keep production the same as the previous year.
“The risk here is that many growers making rational business decisions in their own interest, when taken together, could undermine our food security as a nation,” Barnard says.
“This is a risk that will obviously continue to grow until we have more people willing and able to get involved with the harvest.”
Labour situation continues to deteriorate
Meanwhile the number of workers likely to take up a job in horticulture continues to erode as the COVID-19 pandemic draws out.
Growcom Manager of Policy and Advocacy Richard Shannon says that Australia is “yet to hit the bottom” in terms of the number of casual workers out there looking for farm work, as backpackers continue to leave the country at a rate of more than 1300 each week.
“From a normal backpacker population of around 140,000, we’re now down to less than 50,000,” he says. “Our labour situation will continue to deteriorate until either international travel resumes or the success of government interventions to either attract Australians to our industry or recruit workers from Pacific Island radically improves.
“Until then, many growers will continue to do it tough. Many with their peak harvest seasons soon approaching are staring down the barrel of significant losses. And so consumers should expect to pay more in the grocery aisle.”