Farm crisis: Crops worth $35m rot as jobs go begging

 

Queensland farmers are at breaking point as job snobs leave 7000 positions unfilled on farms across the state in the most vital part of the year.

Farmers have already ploughed in or left $35m worth of crops to rot in fields because they cannot find the workers to harvest them.

Parts of one of Queensland's traditional bedrock industries are on their knees, QFF chief executive officer Georgina Davis said, with farmers working around the clock and risking breakdown because they cannot find workers to fill jobs as harvest and planting looms for many sectors next month.

She said there were 26,000 unfilled jobs nationally and between 6000 and 7000 empty on Queensland farms.

"Farmers and the workers that we have are double-shifting, doing what they can and that's also having an impact on safety," Dr Davis said.

"In Queensland, since Covid began, we have lost or ploughed back into the soil over $35m of product.

"And now because we don't have the confidence, because we don't have the good rain, because we don't have the labour to do the new plantings, the risk to the agricultural sector, particularly to the small producers, is very real. It's here."

Closer to the cities, Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive officer Daniel Gschwind said patrons risked having to "bring your own breakfast" to events because hospitality businesses had vacancies for 1000 chefs they could not fill.

He said hundreds of thousands of workers had been taken out of the hospitality pool with international students and backpackers drying up.

The high-powered gathering of business and government leaders organised by the Queensland Futures Institute was told school leavers were ditching hospitality courses and pouring into construction training.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Property Council both raised warning flags in the Queensland economy.

Papaya farmer Paul Fagg on his family farm in Mareeba in far north Queensland. Picture: Sean Davey.
Papaya farmer Paul Fagg on his family farm in Mareeba in far north Queensland. Picture: Sean Davey.

CCIQ's Amanda Rohan said Queensland small businesses were too uncertain about the future and red tape to think about investing or putting on more staff, pointing to a worrying time ahead for the state economy.

Property Council Queensland executive director Chris Mountford said while recent figures showed Queensland benefiting from a lift in interstate migration, property bosses were worried people had moved to Queensland bringing the remote working jobs with them but could be forced back down south as southern bosses demanded employees return onsite.

Big name Brisbane restaurant operators said chefs were hard to find.

"In hospitality about 30 per cent of our workforce is international students, working visas, and we're not going to get that this year; so that's 30 per cent of our workforce that we don't have and we're all fighting to try to get on top of. The talent pool is quite small so it's very difficult to get staff," said Nehme Ghanem of the Ghanem Group, behind Brisbane restaurants such as Blackbird Bar & Grill, Donna Chang and the soon-to-open Bisou Bisou.

"Added to that is the Jobseeker payments which are quite generous," said Adonis Ghanem of the Ghanem Group. "If you would normally have a kid that would come on the weekend studying at university and working a couple of shifts at the weekend, you'll lose one, they're not going to do it. They don't do those one or two shifts. That's when you really need them so that's been difficult."

Mareeba farmer Paul Fagg said the family farm had no choice but cut down trees and dump papayas worth $250,000 because they could not secure enough farm workers.

He said the industry relied on backpackers, working holiday-makers and labour from the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea which had dried up with COVID.

He said he had work for a crew of another 10 people, who would earn the award pay of almost $25 an hour with crops there to be harvested nine hours a day, five days every week.

Mr Fagg said it wasn't just farmers who relied on the labour - they spend money in regional towns and kept the communities alive and vibrant.

He said Australian workers were hard to keep in "picking and packing".

"We take them on and after a day they say 'no sorry this is too hard for us, we are out of here'.

"Good on them for trying but in the long term we really need people who can stay around."

Employment and training Minister Di Farmer said the government had invested $1b in skills and training to help the "many employers are crying out to get skilled workers back as they re-open and their customers and clients return".

Minister Agriculture Industry Development Mark Furner said Queensland was trialling on-farm quarantine arrangements for workers from Pacific Island nations with the lowest risk of COVID-19 transmission as well as a $1.1m seasonal worker package.

News Corp Australia

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