Australian strawberry growers call for more seasonal workers


“I have 12 siblings,” he said, taking a lunch break on the Wamuran estate. “I help them build a house and pay for the education of my younger brothers. “

Guido Ximenes with a box of ripe strawberries.

Source: SBS Matthew Guest


Mr. Ximenes’ family lives in the coffee growing region of Ainaro in Timor Leste. Coffee accounts for almost a quarter of Timor Leste’s economy and around 200,000 people depend on coffee cultivation as their main source of income.

But coffee pickers, like many workers in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, earn a fraction of Australia’s wages.

“I like staying on the farm, the work is good,” says Ximenes.

Strawberry producer Ray Daniels considers himself lucky to have around 50 seasonal workers supporting him.

“They saved us. We’re on the wire right now,” he said.

Strawberry grower Ray Daniels at his Sunshine Coast property.

Source: SBS Matthew Guest


The second-generation strawberry grower has four million plants in cultivation on two properties.

“Today we’re probably going to bring in around 35 tonnes of strawberries and it’s a very labor intensive operation,” he says.

But it is understaffed.

“We need 150 [seasonal workers] to make sure this farm is working properly, but we don’t have 150.

Mr. Daniels says seasonal workers on his farm are paid for whatever they choose, and Mr. Ximenes can earn about $ 2,300 a week before taxes, with $ 120 deducted for rent.

Seasonal work reforms

The federal government this week announced reforms to the Pacific Work Program and the Seasonal Worker Program, which bring workers to regional Australia from Pacific countries.

More than 27,000 Pacific Islanders are ready to work in Australia, the government says, but quarantine provisions and caps on international arrivals prevent the majority from arriving here.

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A new agricultural visa addressing labor shortages on Australian farms will be in place by the end of this month. It is expected to double the number of Pacific and Timorese workers in Australia to over 24,000.

The National Farmers Federation welcomes the new visa, for which it has campaigned in recent years.

“However, many Australian farmers are in dire straits,” says President Fiona Simson.

“And we are unlikely to see any benefits from the new visa this season.”

There is an urgent need for more seasonal workers.

Source: SBS Matthew Guest


The NFF has also tried to encourage more Australians to help with the spring harvest.

“Despite our best efforts, farms are often located in remote areas, so we depend on labor from other countries for this seasonal agricultural work,” said Simson.

“Seasonal workers harvest in Australia. They love to come to Australia and work hard. They like to earn as much money as they can to send to their families.

Crisis after crisis

Almost half of Australia’s $ 430 million annual strawberry yield comes from Queensland and September is the peak harvest season.

But the labor shortage is not the only challenge facing farmers. Strawberry growers in particular have struggled in recent years, first with drought and then a needle crisis.

Spring is the high season for strawberry growers.

Source: SBS Matthew Guest


“We took a hit of $ 4 million when this [needle] the incident happened, ”Daniels said. “It meant we were struggling with our overdraft and trying to get it back financially.”

After the winter rains, Mr Daniels was among others counting on a bumper spring harvest to pay off debt, but low prices mean fields of ripe fruit are not profitable to pick.

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An increase in online orders and the closure of cafes and restaurants during COVID-19 closures in Sydney and Melbourne are responsible for the drop in prices.

Today, Mr. Daniels is one of many farmers who spray healthy plants.

“We have destroyed about 1.5 million plants now, and the turnover is about half of what it should be,” he said.

Strawberry producer Adrian Schultz and his wife Mandy.

Source: Supplied Adrian Schultz


At a nearby strawberry farm, owner Adrian Schultz also sprays fruit fields.

“My wife Mandy and I made the difficult decision to pull out of 42,000 plants, which is essentially half of our farm,” said Mr. Schultz, also president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association.

“It’s devastating. We had never considered spraying our plants during this peak period. But we had to make this decision otherwise we will go bankrupt.

“It’s a slow shipwreck and it’s going to get worse.”

The National Farmers Federation says summer fruit and vegetable prices could skyrocket due to labor shortages and state borders closed during the pandemic.

“If we can’t get the people [on farms] to pick the fruits, if we can’t get the workers to move between farms from state to state, if we can’t get the trucks to go from the paddock to the consumer, then we we’ll end up with a shortage and that will be an increase in prices, ”says Ms. Simson.

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“This has a huge impact on the viability of farmers and the rural and regional communities that depend on these small industries.”

Farmer Mr. Schultz can only ask buyers to bring home a few extra strawberries punnets while they can.

“Buy a few pounds, that’s what we ask people to do, and put them in the freezer.”

Update: This article has been updated to include the earning potential of Mr. Daniels’ farm workers.


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