With the impacts of COVID-19 still affecting international borders, school leavers are being encouraged to rethink their gap year and consider fruit picking instead.

Key points:

  • Gap year labourers aren’t the solution to the labour shortage, according to a New South Wales avocado farmer, but they can certainly help
  • A student who’s been working on a Victorian cherry farm for two years says the work is hard but rewarding
  • Only one farm in Victoria has signed up so far, but others may follow next season

An initiative launched by Thankful4Farmers is linking young people up with work placements and offering training, in part to address the agricultural labour shortage.

So far one Victorian farm is on the list of participating farms — the Yarck-based Koala Cherries.

Environmental science student Daphne Tripodi has been working on the orchid for two seasons now after deciding to move home to Eildon from Melbourne.

She said she had come across many people at the orchard who had not been able to travel overseas during their gap year.

“They’ve been travelling around Australia picking different fruits,” Ms Tripodi said.

A woman with face mask and cap, wearing high-vis, holding a punnet of cherries.

Daphne Tripodi has been packing cherries for two seasons.(Supplied: Koala Cherries)

She said it was a physically demanding but rewarding job that offered plenty of learning opportunities.

“It’s such a cool operation and I encourage everyone to give it a try,” Ms Tripodi said.

“One day I’ll be using the shovel and a wheelbarrow, and the next day I’ll be cleaning down the line or using the pressure washer.

A woman in high-vis putting a sticker on a box.

Daphne Tripodi says there’s lots to learn on the farm.(Supplied: Koala Cherries)

Coming up short

Riverina-based Barham Avocados director Katrina Myers said school leavers had the potential to provide support during the picking season, but were not a long-term solution to the worker shortage.

“Anything I guess helps, but I don’t necessarily think it’s going to solve the issue,” she said.

“There’s a lot of people that need a big influx of staff all at once … it probably won’t solve all of their problems but for someone like us, it could certainly fill a bit of the gap.”

The 40-acre orchard is still developing but produces around 300 bins of avocados a year, which equates to a couple of hundred tonnes.

Usually about five extra casuals are put on to help during the picking season, but this year 11 were employed.

“It was definitely harder [to source pickers] this year because there were no backpackers around,” Ms Myers said.

“We were a bit worried that we weren’t going to be able to get staff, but we were just really lucky.

Ms Myers said she had not registered her farm to the program yet because the avocado picking season is coming to an end, but she would consider it.

“We’re very passionate about trying to encourage people to try and get into agriculture — it’s such a great industry,” she said.

“I think it could be a good way of supporting it and making that happen.”

School leavers urged to help fill labour gap during gap year
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