Why the cost of your supermarket shop is set to SKYROCKET unless a major change is made to travel rules – as Aussies farmers threaten to plant NO crops for a year
- Fruit and vegetable growers have warned cost of produce will continue to soar
- Facing a critical labour shortage due to the massive decline of overseas workers
- Queensland missing Pacific Island seasonal workforce due to travel restrictions
- Warnings that it could see prices surge by 30 per cent with tomatoes at $50/kg
Shoppers will see their grocery bills soar unless coronavirus travel restrictions stopping farm workers from entering Australia are eased, fruit and vegetable growers have warned.
The pandemic has taken a toll on produce growers across Australia facing a critical labour shortage due to the massive decline of overseas workers.
Around 40,000 overseas backpackers – who are relied upon for fruit picking – are estimated to be in Australia this year, just over a quarter of the 140,000 who were Down Under in 2020.
Likewise overseas workers from Pacific islands have also had trouble getting in since Australia closed its international border on March 20, 2020.
Queensland growers are among the hardest hit by the labour shortfall heading into winter and some are even considering to not plant any crops in 2021.
They believe shoppers may soon cop the brunt at the check-out by paying up to $50 per kilo for tomatoes – which is a 900 per cent increase on the current $5-a-kilo average price.
Workers from Vanuatu made up a significant proportion of the vegetable picking labour force in north Queensland but have been hampered in particular by the state’s own strict travel restrictions.
Fruit and vegetable growers warn produce prices will soar unless labour shortages are addressed. Pictured is a woman picking grapes at a vineyard
As their Victorian and Tasmania counterparts finally welcome hundreds of seasonal workers flown in from South Pacific Island nations to address the shortage of pickers, Queensland producers have been left short-staffed.
One of the worst-affected areas is Bowen in Queensland’s Whitsundays region, where 3,500 backpackers are needed each year to harvest the region’s wide variety of produce including tomatoes, rockmelon and capsicum.
The labour shortage has prompted the town’s chamber of commerce into action by developing plans to quarantine workers from Vanuatu, which have fallen on deaf ears at Queensland Health.
Chamber president Bruce Hedditch believes shoppers could soon be paying up to extortionate prices unless the labour shortage is addressed – warning of tomatoes costing ‘between $30 and $50 a kilo’.
Around 40,000 overseas backpackers are estimated to be in Australia in 2021, compared to 140,000 in 2020. Pictured is an orange picker
‘Farmers are even contemplating not even planting crops in 2021,’ Mr Hedditch told the Courier Mail.
‘We know Victoria has received a large number of Pacific Islanders to work on their farms and this has been achieved through an agreement with the Tasmanian Government, where workers undertook 14-day quarantine periods in that state.
‘We can’t get answers here. It’s insane.’
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences recently revealed in its quarterly report that shoppers should expect to pay up to 30 per cent more for produce as farmers struggle to find workers amid the pandemic.
Prices of produce that flourish in summer – stone fruit such as mangoes and peaches, grapes and pome fruit such as pears and apples – and vegetables are all expected to rise by between seven and 29 per cent.
There are fears the price of tomatoes (pictured) could rise as high at $50 a kilo (stock image)
‘ABARES has assumed that the overseas labour supply will be around 50 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels in 2020-21, which is a significant fall in the usual workforce available to horticultural enterprises,’ the report said.
On top of the rising prices, overall production of fruit is forecast to drop by 17 per cent with a 2 per cent decrease for vegetable production.
Despite the increases, ABARES said it wasn’t ‘unusual’ for fruit and vegetables to rise by as much as 30 per cent.
It comes after Australians were warned the price of beef is also expected to soar in supermarkets this year.
Experts have said a ‘rebuild’ phase in the cattle industry could mean Aussies will pay more for their meat.
Experts recently warned shoppers can expect to pay up to 30 per cent more for produce as farmers struggle to find workers amid the pandemic