15,300 Qld workers needed ahead of $32m ‘perfect storm’
Farmers are fighting the 'perfect storm' with many in a race against time to secure thousands of workers ahead of the critical harvest season in March.
Queensland's $32m in lost crops is expected to rapidly increase when avocados, vegetables, bananas and berries are due for harvest in March.
Industry groups, fearing the lack of workers will decimate the sector, have launched a new FarmReady Hub in a desperate effort to match workers with farmers.
The Hub prepares prospective agriculture employees for farm work and opens career pathways across the industry.
Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance Project Manager Diana Saunders said up to 5100 casual workers were needed across Queensland each month.
"The sector is changing and people should give it a go," she said.
"It's a good way to get outdoors, experience the regions and earn some money."
Queensland Farmers' Federation CEO Georgina Davis said labour disruption caused by COVID-19 was becoming more concerning.
"Demand for casual labour is expected to peak around March," she said.
"Queensland farmers have already reported $31m of crop losses across a variety of commodities.
"There is a significant amount of work being done to find solutions, including encouraging Australians to consider farm work, however the industry is diverse, and many job applicants are underprepared."
Dr Davis said the FarmReady Hub would ensure new employees arriving at the farm gate were prepared for an agricultural job, health and safety and biosecurity requirements.
She said the hub would also make it easier for farmers to take on workers by reducing paperwork and basic training.
A bumper avocado crop anticipated this year has prompted Blackbutt farmer Anthony Beutel to start his search for workers early.
Despite the crop not ready for harvest until April and May, Mr Beutel said he had "started the ball rolling" looking for people.
"We'd usually use backpackers but there's none of those
"I am a bit worried. It is a concern because if the (avocado) price is going to be there and the crop is going to be ready we'll need to get that fruit off."
It is uncharted territory for Mr Beutel, who was able to harvest last year's drought-ravaged crop using the few backpackers who remained in Australia.
"This year we've got a pretty reasonable crop on so we're more in need of labour this year than we have been in the past two or three," he said.
It comes as Agriculture Minister David Littleproud calls for the state government to extend the Pacific Island Labour Scheme beyond March 4 to allow workers to remain in Queensland.
Originally published as 15,300 Qld workers needed ahead of $32m 'perfect storm'