VITAL: Seasonal workers including people in seasonal worker programs and backpackers are essential to pick, prune and harvest the region's crops.
VITAL: Seasonal workers including people in seasonal worker programs and backpackers are essential to pick, prune and harvest the region's crops.

Seasonal workers flock to fruit farms for harvest

GROWERS have been able to maintain the seasonal workforce needed to harvest crops while following strict regulations to prevent coronavirus spreading to the region.

Many backpackers and seasonal workers are arriving in the Central Highlands to help horticultural producers to prune and pick fruit and other crops including grapes, citrus, grains and cotton.

Central Highlands Development Corporation Agribusiness development co-ordinator Liz Alexander said while some people didn't want "outsiders" coming to town during the pandemic, it was necessary for local producers.

"Agribusiness and the food chain is critical to Australia's food security, it underpins our rural community, supports regional economic growth and jobs and is critical to supporting the region's recovery post COVID-19," she said.

"Horticulture is a growing value and employment driver in the region.

"The gross value of production from table grapes and citrus is far greater than $100 million in the Central Highlands."

Mrs Alexander said most of the workers arriving in Emerald were highly trained essential staff employed through the Seasonal Workforce Program, with many years of continual service in the region.

"They play a really critical role in doing tasks that are seasonal and the roles that aren't there full time," she said.

"Picking, pruning, running cotton gins or grain silos at harvest time requires a significantly larger workforce. They do the critical manual labour that allows us to pick fruit and harvest."

Minister Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said Wide Bay Burnett, Cairns and Moreton Bay North had the highest demand for harvest workers, followed by Darling Downs-Maranoa and Mackay-Isaac-Whitsunday.

"During this process we need to keep everybody safe, and we all have an obligation for taking actions that prevent the spread of COVID-19," he said.

"That means everybody involved in the agricultural employment and supply chain - workers, transporters, accommodation providers, employers, labour hire companies and local communities - are responsible for ensuring proper arrangements."

The Queensland Government issued an updated health directive on Tuesday, May 5, which protected the community while ensuring the agribusiness sector could continue to provide Australians with quality food.

Seasonal workers in Queensland must secure a job before moving between regions and must be able to provide a record of their previous work and residence in the past 14 days.

All seasonal workers entering Queensland from a COVID-19 hotspot must self-quarantine for 14 days before commencing work at an agribusiness operation and all agribusiness and labour hire companies that employ seasonal workers must have a health management plan.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said agricultural production was a key pillar of the Queensland economy, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, and it was important to keep the industry running.

"Everyone needs fresh fruit and vegetables to stay healthy during this time, and much of Australia's produce is grown right here," she said.

"To harvest these crops our horticulture industry has an average monthly workforce demand of up to 10,000 skilled and unskilled workers over the next six months, but COVID-19 restrictions must also be followed."

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