Wide Bay producers are being urged to capitalise on new export opportunities but a looming labour shortage may slow them down.
- Export opportunities have opened in the South-East Asia region, despite COVID-19 closures
- Producers are being told to “value-add” to get non-perishable products overseas
- But farmers may struggle to harvest crops to fill exports due to labour shortages
Trade and Investment Queensland’s Bundaberg trade and investment officer Diane Anstee says the market gaps that farmers could harness were in the South-East Asia region.
“There’s a lot of opportunities there,” she said.
“Specifically around the need for food security in countries like Indonesia.”
Value-adding into the future
Ms Anstee said local farmers could offer more than just food products.
“There’s opportunities there for Australian exporters to assist with expertise, know-how as well as providing food,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic overhauled how Australian farmers could send their products overseas.
With airports across the country, and the world, operating at a very limited capacity producers were forced to look for markets elsewhere.
Ms Anstee said value-adding to products was an option going forward and that there were a number of examples locally, including dried fruit, herb and vegetable pastes and macadamia products.
“Look at what we’re exporting and how we might be able to add to it here so it doesn’t rely on air transport.
“The other opportunity is to work in conjunction with partners in overseas markets so we’re still earning export dollars without actually sending food offshore.”
Not only are there options to value-add locally, but Ms Anstee says there is demand for it in key overseas markets.
“There’s many markets they still can’t do that so I think there’s an opportunity there.”
Will we have enough workers?
With about 1,000 workers leaving Australia every week, the labour crisis in the agriculture industry is expected to worsen.
Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers (BFVG) managing director Bree Grima says it is time for a shakeup.
BFVG is one of 5 organisations nationally taking part in the Harvest Trail Industry Collaboration trial.
Ms Grima said its focus has been getting more Australians onto farms in the long term.
“Whilst we might need pickers and packers now — the opportunities are there for those people to stay on board and to really become part of that business,” she said.
“We need everyone from mathematicians, scientists, food technologists as well as engineers.”
Even if the agricultural sector increases the number of local workers, Ms Grima said the local industry would still be reliant on Pacific Islanders and backpackers to work.
“Unfortunately, we are still going to be reliant on those workers because of the seasonal nature of our crops,” she said.
“So it needs to be a real mix of different workers that we access, but it has really shown us how vulnerable we can be.”