REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Time to think about those who pick the fruit, veg that fills your plate

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend.

Thousands of workers are needed if agriculture has a chance of curbing the flow of lost crops and reduced production. Photo: File

Thousands of workers are needed if agriculture has a chance of curbing the flow of lost crops and reduced production. Photo: File

You've probably never stopped and thought about who picked that carrot, apple, smashed avocado you ate just before.

You might have thought about the farmer who grew it, but the labour that picks it?

Well, it's been in short supply during COVID-19 and its the virus challenge that been flying a little under the radar if you don't read the agricultural presses.

But for farmers it's been a real headache. In fact, it's resulted in millions of dollars worth of crops going to waste in what has otherwise been a pretty good season for the nation's agricultural sector.

The National Lost Crop register, launched last December to monitor the details of lost crops since COVID hit, has shown nearly one in every four respondents reporting impacts on their physical and mental health.

These impacts include increased working hours, elevated stress levels, loss of confidence, and depression.

And it seems there is no end in sight to the crisis, with the ag sector told to expect the arrival gates to stay closed to overseas visitors for at least another year.

The current stats say 20,000 workers are needed if the industry stands even a chance of curbing the flow of lost crops and reduced production.

In the wine industry, things have taken a double hit with China also introducing tariffs. Combined with the hospitality drop from COVID, there could be a 10 per cent hit in winegrowers bottom line.

Back in October the Northern Territory was facing a race against time to get in workers from overseas to pick the state's $50 million mango crop.

Annually, between 2000-2500 mango pickers from regions that include Timor-Leste, Fiji, Vanuatu and other Asian/Pacific nations, come to the NT to work, but COVID border restrictions were making that hard.

Luckily, workers arrived in time to help save the crop.

And there is a silver lining to the worker shorter too.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences' (ABARES) Agricultural Commodities Report for the March quarter 2021 suggests the labour shortage may spur productivity growth down the track.

"For example, robot harvesters for fruit are being developed and are closer to being commercially viable. If this technology becomes commercially viable it would help protect the industry against future labour shortages," the report stated.

But until we have these robot harvesters, such as Clive here, it's looking like consumers will also wear the cost of the labour shortfall, with fruit and vegetable prices set to rise by up to 27 per cent.

Although ABARES did specify changes between seven and 29 per cent were not unusual and unlikely to shock consumers.

In case you are interested in filtering all the latest down to just one late afternoon read, why not sign up for The Informer newsletter?

More stuff happening around Australia ...