Farmers in Queensland have been forced to destroy up to $42 million worth of crops due to labor storage, as foreign backpackers continue to shun the country after Covid-19.
There are currently only 15,000 backpackers working in Australia, up from 130,000 before international borders closed pre-pandemic.
The result is a dire shortage of unskilled labor in the agricultural and horticultural sectors, with large amounts of food production being wasted.
Coupled with recent flooding in the state, supermarket prices for certain fruits and vegetables are expected to rise further at a time when Australians are dealing with rising costs of living on multiple fronts.
The Covid pandemic reduced the number of foreign backpackers (pictured) coming to Australia to do unskilled work
More than $42 million worth of crops have been wasted across Queensland as a result of farm worker storage (pictured)
“It hasn’t improved… we’re still seeing fewer backpackers in the country than we were before Covid,” said Growcom policy and advocacy manager Richard Shannon. The courier post†
“We are short of our unskilled labor, those who perform our important harvesting duties.
‘There is an incredibly tight labor market and it is difficult to recruit people in agriculture and horticulture… they are not as sought after as other industries’.
Industry participants have urged help to find more workers and warn consumers are likely to see “modest price increases” if they cannot be harvested unless fruits and vegetables can be harvested.
Only 15,000 backpackers currently work in Australia, significantly fewer than 130,000 before international borders were closed due to Covid-19 (pictured, Queensland farm)
The federal government has expanded and rebranded the Pacific Labor Mobility Scheme as companies to deploy workers from the Pacific islands.
More than 5,200 workers arrived in Queensland’s Pacific Island and East Timor during the pandemic and were considered crucial to the survival of many farms by alleviating critical labor shortages in regional areas.
More than 5,200 Pacific and East Timor workers arrived in Queensland during the pandemic
Mr Shannon said that “as much as we have opened up and expanded Pacific programs, there is a limit to those programs and their capacity to fill that gap.”
“Migration, at least in the short term, will be essential to close this gap in seasonal workers,” he added.
Despite the pandemic, primary industry commodities contributed more than $23.54 billion to the Queensland economy in 2021-2022, 20 percent more than in 2020-21 and 24 percent more than the average for the past 5 years.
Livestock (44 percent) and horticulture (16 percent) made the largest contribution to the total.