North-West apple orchards losing stock due to picker shortage

DIRE CONSEQUENCES: John Brown is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars as his apples stay on the tree. Picture: Cordell Richardson.
DIRE CONSEQUENCES: John Brown is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars as his apples stay on the tree. Picture: Cordell Richardson.

Tasmania may be known as the Apple Isle, but its apples are going to waste waiting to be picked by a disappearing workforce.

Sassafras Orchards owner John Brown said he still had thousands of bins worth of apples to pick, but nobody to do the work.

Mr Brown said a combination of the backpacker tax and other fruit sectors employing part of the casual labour pool had seen his farm suffer.

“Unless we get more people immediately we will have second-grade apples or they will need to be juiced,” Mr Brown said.

“It will cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

Mr Brown has advertised for staff via tasagjobs.com.au, Facebook and a sign on the Bass Highway saying help was wanted.

Mr Brown said he thought the shortage of workers could be traced back to the backpacker tax debate and joined the Tasmanian fruit grower delegation that visited Canberra to argue against the tax.

“It’s an absolute disgrace and I advised Canberra,” he said.

Another reason for the worker shortage was that other fruit growers had increased production, he said.

“Costa has doubled production. They have taken many of the workers,” Mr Brown said.

Costa berries, sold in Australia under the Driscoll’s brand, has expanded its operations to supply berries all year round and take on larger markets overseas.

Fruit Growers Tasmania business development manager Phil Pyke said apple growers were struggling to find pickers this season.

“There is a real shortage right across the state,” Mr Pyke said.

“We haven’t seen it get to this level before,” he said.

While Mr Pyke said the shortage in workers could not be directly attributed to the backpacker tax debate, the fact that the government took “so long dithering around” before making a decision on the tax had an affect.

“People making plans to come on first-year visas didn’t come. We’ve got to look at how we solve this in the long term,” he said.

Federal Parliament is considering an amendment to the backpacker’s bill - Social Services Legislation Amendment (Seasonal Worker Incentives for Jobseekers) Bill 2017 - to encourage jobseekers receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance to take up seasonal work, such as fruit picking.

If the amendment is passed the trial begins on July 1, but Mr Brown said he needs pickers now.

“We are desperate. We‘re about 60 pickers short and need more pickers in the next few days,” he said.

This story Picker shortage costs thousands of dollars first appeared on The Advocate.