The $24 an hour job Aussies aren’t applying for
A STRAWBERRY farmer fears part of his crop may be left to rot as border closures shuts off his seasonal workforce and Australians shirk the job.
Pinata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr said the very first strawberries of the Queensland season were picked this week at Wamuran, north of Brisbane.
His farms also harvest pineapples and raspberries, and all of those crops would be finished between October and November, and then mangoes will take over.
Normally, seasonal workers come to his farm from Vanuatu but the border lockdowns had cut them off and stopped the flow of incoming backpackers as well, while many had gone home.
Pinata has seven farms across Queensland and the Northern Territory and he said right now there were "adequate workers" but that could change.
"The backpackers don't get the dole, so if they don't have a job they struggle to buy food and that's why a lot of backpackers went home," he said.
"That is a concern that all farmers have, that there's not enough backpackers in Australia to do the work.
"Time will tell … but I expect come July and August we'll be short of people in the strawberry industry, which means fruit will be left to rot in the field because there won't be enough people to harvest it."
The casual per hour award for fruit picking is $24.36 and Mr Scurr said: "if you're any good you get way more than that".
He said hundreds of international backpackers who lost their jobs in the Caboolture area's pubs and clubs had applied for work on his farms but only one Australian citizen.
"Ultimately, they need to be financially incentivised and by doubling the dole they've (the Federal Government) taken that incentive away," he said.
"Why would they work for me?"
Mr Scurr said he hoped the border closures caused by the coronavirus would help people appreciate Australian farmers more.
"Caboolture through to Nambour is the largest strawberry producer in Australia, so there's plenty of local strawberries," he said.
"But we also grow raspberries and pineapples as well so if you buy one of them at this time of year, it will have come from here.
"The plants are in and we've had nice growing conditions, to produce a good crop of nice strawberries."
LuvaBerry's Mandy Schultz, whose family strawberry farm is in Wamuran, agreed "not one local" had applied for a job.
She said in previous years the industry had been rocked by the contamination, drought, bushfires, and now COVID-19 but they were determined that "the show must go on".
"Man, strawberry growers are so resilient. I think we're so used to dealing with adversity," she said.
She said they had lost major promotional events, like Strawberry Sunday at the Caboolture Festival, Moreton Bay Food and Wine Festival, Regional Flavours and The Ekka.
She said the social distancing rules meant they had to shut down their pick-your-own service at the family farm, and it had changed the way their employees worked.
"The show will go on, the plants are still growing and in about five weeks time my pack house is going to open, we will wash our hands, sterilise everything daily, and we will pack beautiful Queensland strawberries," she said.
"And strawberries are really good for your immune system, they're full of vitamin C and antioxidants.
"Strawberries are coming so get behind your farmers and keep buying."