Agri-tourism businesses and food producers that supply major restaurants say Victoria’s border restrictions with New South Wales, and Melbourne’s ongoing lockdowns, are financially devastating.
Extension of Melbourne’s lockdown has some niche food producers feeling the pinch with city hospitality venues closing
New South Wales border restrictions are also leaving agri-tourism operators with heavily reduced incomes or no option but to close their doors
Both groups are missing out on financial support from federal and state governments
As state and federal governments continue to announce business support packages, these operators are often left with no financial help.
Great Ocean Ducks in south-west Victoria is run by Greg and Jodi Clarke. Their company is not eligible for any government financial support.
Mr Clarke said they had lost almost all of their business during the lockdown.
“The first week of lockdown we didn’t sell one duck,” he said.
“I get that the government needs to cover a whole range of things with one label, but we’re very different to a lot of other businesses.
“We’re farming, but we’re selling direct to chefs in Melbourne. We’re pretty much not in the traditional agricultural mould.”
Mr Clarke said they were moving some birds through a home delivery service, but duck sales remained low after lockdowns as chefs freeze birds that would otherwise be wasted during snap lockdowns.
“Unfortunately, the last couple of lockdown announcements have happened on Thursdays, and that’s the day we deliver ducks to the restaurants,” he said.
“The poor chefs get the ducks and don’t have anyone to sell them to because they’re closed down.
“And when the state opens up, nobody needs the ducks because they’re still sitting on the ones from the previous week.”
Border businesses on the brink
Rob Whyte owns Gooramadda Olives, an award-winning olive grove and retail store that relies on tourists through the gate to buy products.
“I would estimate about 70 per cent of our business is people coming into the store and engaging in the tasting experience,” Mr Whyte said.
He said his business also struggled to get funding early on in the pandemic.
“But, at the end of the day, we’re agri-tourism. There are a lot of people in agri-tourism and that seems to be one of the major industry sectors [where] these grants are missing.
“There are a lot of folk around here who are getting nothing … and they’re slipping through the net.”
Mr Whyte said local customers were concerned about accidentally breaking the rules, and tourism from both New South Wales and Victoria had been non-existent.
“We’re losing business on both sides. It’s a real challenge.”
“We would probably have seen a loss of about 50 per cent of our turnover but, fortunately, it’s really forced us to lift our game online.”
On the other side of the border, in south-west NSW, an agri-tourism business that has been running for more than 45 years has been forced to close.
Orange World usually offers tractor tours through its citrus and avocado property, but they have not been running since the second week of July.
Owner Mario Mammone said people have stopped travelling to the border region.
“Most of our visitors are from Melbourne. There are so many people who want to escape the city,” he said.
“People bring their families, and then the children will bring their own kids, 20 or 30 years later. It’s a fun place to be.
“We enjoy what we do and it gets me up in the morning, but not at the moment though.”
Mr Mammone said the business needed to wait for the Victorian border to reopen to NSW before operations could resume.
“But, as soon as we have some clear understanding between the two states, we’ll be keen to re-open.
“We’re in a situation that we can afford to just keep going for two or three more weeks but, after that, we’ll start to eat into our savings, which is not much.”
For the business to survive into September, Mr Mammone said he would need financial assistance from Service New South Wales.
“I’m pretty sure that all of the cross-border businesses are trying through their local MP to see what assistance we can get,” he said.
“We’re in the worst location, in the sense that we’re governed by two sets of rules between Victoria and New South Wales.”
Help for some unable to operate
On Thursday night, the Victorian government announced a $180 million ‘Small Business COVID Hardship Fund’, which will provide small- to medium-sized businesses with $10,000 grants to get through the recent lockdowns.
Victoria’s Minister for Small Business, Jaala Pulford, said the new fund was specifically designed to help businesses that were legally allowed to operate but were precluded from generating revenue due to restrictions.
“This hardship fund will provide a cash lifeline to businesses that haven’t been eligible for our recent grants, so they can get through this really challenging time.”
A New South Wales government spokesperson said a comprehensive economic support package of over $5.1 billion was available to businesses, including $1 billion from the Commonwealth Government.
“The Government has made this support available across the state in recognition of the impact that the lockdown has state-wide,” the spokesperson said.
“All impacted businesses are entitled to claim 2021 COVID-19 funding, including the Businesses Grant, a one-off grant of $7,500 to $15,000 depending on your business’s revenue decline if they meet eligibility requirements.”
“New South Wales is also covering the cost of the COVID-Disaster Payment in areas that are not ‘Commonwealth Declared Hotspots’ to ensure that individuals affected by the lockdown across the State are able to access support.”
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