COVID-19 travel restrictions have significantly impacted Australia’s horticultural industry, creating a major shortage of peak demand workers. As a result of the worker shortage, many Queensland strawberry farmers are being forced to reduce the number of plants they grow, which means Aussies could be facing supply shortages and soaring prices for winter strawberries this season.
Queensland Strawberry Growers’ Association (QSGA) President, Adrian Schultz explains, “Working Holiday Makers normally pick up to 80 per cent of our fruit in Queensland. However, there are 79,000 fewer Working Holiday Makers left in Australia compared with this time last year - and up to 1,000 are leaving per week. In addition, there are no new Working Holiday Makers coming in to replenish this shortage due to the continued closures of international borders”.
What’s more, Seasonal Worker Program & Pacific Labour Scheme numbers are still very low and not affordable for many of the smaller family farms that make up much of the Queensland Strawberry industry, and disappointingly the industry has failed to do enough to attract local workers yet.
Despite all of this, strawberry growers are a resilient bunch having weathered more than their fair share of storms in recent years. Many in the industry remain optimistic and are hopeful that the industry promotion incentive will actively encourage Aussies of all ages – especially recent school and Uni leavers - plus International Students to help fill the gap left by the dwindling backpacker numbers.
Queensland Strawberries is bringing an industry first to the market – an Association-wide promotional activity to incentivise potential workers with the chance to play to win up to $100,000 in cash prizes, and with 10 x $100,000 cash prizes to be won, there’s a lot of reasons to give strawberry picking a go this winter!
The incentive program registration portal opens on 8 April and workers are needed to work from June to October across the five growing regions in Queensland on participating farms. The promotion really aims to attract all kinds of workers to come and give farm work a go, with a view to staying at a single strawberry farm for the entire winter season. The more average working weeks that a worker completes, the more entry points they can earn. All known strawberry farms in Queensland have been given the opportunity to join QSGA and participate in the promotion, but a small number have decided it is not for them.
Strawberries are a challenging crop in many ways as the plants are continuously picked every 2-3 days across a long period of time - when the berries are ready, they have to come off or they will rot on the plant.
“Without pickers and packers, a farmer can lose entire blocks to disease issues very quickly. It really is the case with strawberries that you cannot negotiate with Mother Nature!” says Jane Richter, Marketing Manager for QSGA.
The overall promotional program will also encourage workers to work hard and then play hard on their days off, inviting them to explore some of Queensland’s hidden gems and to escape the winter chills of the Southern states. This is the perfect opportunity for recent school and uni leavers to backpack their own backyard and experience what their amazing country has to offer, even in winter. Local tourism operators will be offering exclusive deals, discounts, and monthly prizes to further boost the value to workers who come to pick and pack for the chance to play to win cash prizes.
“Workers will have the opportunity to explore Queensland, meet new people, learn new skills and earn good money if they’re prepared to work hard,” says Jane.
Giving a whole bunch of new people the opportunity to get ‘farm ready’, the program offers people valuable horticultural experience and training. It is hoped that other horticultural industries will benefit from the Queensland Strawberry initiative as it will entice new people to try farm work and hopefully go on to follow a career path in other horticulture crops once the winter strawberry season is over.
“Even though there is a feeling of great concern in the industry, we’re all really excited about what the incentive program will bring, and we are confident that it will help alleviate the workforce shortage significantly, and not just for our industry. And, it’s not all about work work work! We want our pickers and packers to enjoy themselves and take the time to explore what beautiful Queensland has to offer too. Of course, we’d love for some of the money paid in wages to be reinvested into our local communities to support our struggling tourism providers too,” says Mr Schultz.
So, if you're looking to escape a cold winter, explore Queensland, make good money and most importantly help the Queensland Strawberry industry, then Register for work now via the website www.qldstrawberries.com.au