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Queensland growers look for fresh ideas to combat labor shortage

A North Queensland vegetable grower still regrets having to make the decision to plough the last of her 2020 crop back into the ground. However, Lorelle McShane said she was left with no choice after staff left her Burdekin farm to return to city jobs.

"It would have been about $150,000 that we left in the paddock," she said. "We had about 5,000 trays to go out of that and the current market price was $30. Unless there is a secure abundance of people in Australia to start next year, I don't think we'll be growing."

Among the areas worst hit will be towns along the east coast of Queensland, the Riverina, the Tasmanian and Victorian fruit growing regions, and the Northern Territory overall.

Mrs McShane had nothing good to say about the existing Federal Government schemes to encourage urban Australians and working holidaymakers (WHM) to relocate to a harvest region, being convinced the scheme would not work.

The requirement for backpackers on WHM visas to qualify for a second year visa is to complete 88 days of farm work, while six months farm work qualifies them for a third year visa. Despite offering a $500 bonus for workers completing the season, the former Growcom director said it was not enough.

Some claim they believe willing workers are flocking to less difficult jobs in air-conditioned environments, but businesses including trucking companies and light industries needed staff too.

With thousands of dollars in relocation allowances unlikely to succeed in attracting scarce workers, some farmers think radical immigration reforms are needed. The industry has relied heavily on working holiday visa holders since 2006, when the second year visa scheme began, giving farmers in remote areas in particular few other options.

Mrs McShane told that perhaps better incentives, including a pathway to permanent settlement in Australia, could be the last hope to lure workers back to farms.

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