A trip to the supermarket for mandarins and oranges is likely to hurt the hip pocket this winter, as citrus growers continue to bear the brunt of labour shortages and the high quarantine costs of Pacific Island workers.
- The peak industry body says some citrus varieties will lose shelf life and have to be abandoned
- Citrus SA Chair Mark Doecke is continuing to call for a quarantine-free travel bubble with the Pacific Islands
- Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock says consumers will see higher retail prices
Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock expects the seasonal workers shortage to worsen in winter as the industry hits peak harvest.
Mr Hancock said while governments had established quarantine programs for Pacific Island workers, more needed to be done.
“I think in this region [the Riverland, South Australia], it is close to probably 2,500 to 3,000 workers out there picking fruit per day in the height of harvest and that is really going to draw down on the numbers of available workers here,” he said.
About 1,200 Pacific Island workers are scheduled to arrive in South Australia over the next three months under the state government’s program, but Mr Hancock said there were currently only 3,000 workers from the Pacific Islands across the whole of Australia.
Price rise and crop losses
Mr Hancock expected to see a slow and prolonged harvest and said he wasn’t confident all the fruit could be picked.
A slow harvest was also expected to lead to some supply issues and lesser amounts of fruit available to be sent to markets across the country.
“When we have a situation that supply is short that can drive prices up,” Mr Hancock said.
He said the price rises would likely be “noticeable but not astronomical”.
Chair of Citrus SA and grower Mark Doecke said he couldn’t guarantee the region’s fruit would be picked in time.
“We have our Pacific Island program in place … that is a fair chunk of our labour need, but I suppose we always like more options. I mean we have to see how we go,” Mr Doecke said.
He has called for a quarantine-free travel bubble to be established between Australia and the Pacific Islands to secure an affordable harvest workforce in the long term.
In South Australia, approved employers for the Pacific Island seasonal worker program must contribute $2,500.
Federal Member for Barker Tony Pasin said he was “a wholehearted supporter” of the travel bubble and believed a series of solutions was needed.
He has been advocating for on-farm quarantine and in-country quarantine in the Pacific Islands to reduce growers’ costs.
“The citrus harvest is the strongest demand that comes on for seasonal workers in Australia,” Mr Pasin said.
“We need to make sure that we have got the labour to get that work done.”
Strong demand expected
Besides additional costs to secure seasonal workers, farmers were also faced with higher fruit growing costs, according to Mr Hancock.
He said diesel, fertilisers and materials used in packing sheds had all jumped up in price, with growers forced to absorb the cost.
Despite the increase in citrus prices, Mr Hancock expected no change in consumer demand.
“I think citrus has such a connection with people wanting to stay healthy through the winter season. It’s got a lot of vitamin C and folate and is connected to that health kick through the winter months and I think we will still see very strong demand,” he said.