PRODUCERS may be able access workers in the border zones between Victoria and NSW but more planning will be needed as various crops come on line in warmer months.
Earlier today, NSW agriculture minister, Adam Marshall, announced that seasonal workers living in the defined NSW and Victoria border zone will be able to cross the border daily to undertake farm work in NSW by accessing a border zone resident permit.
The move was welcomed by NSW Farmers but warned it would be imperative the government and industry worked together to identify ongoing labour needs across horticulture and grain industries for the rest of 2020 and into early 2021.
NSW Farmers' president, James Jackson, the number of workers on the move will only increase as the warmer seasons approach.
"In coming months there will be an increased need for contractors and farm labour with predictions for a good grain harvest following extensive rain," Mr Jackson said.
"The closure of international borders means that these industries need to mobilise seasonal workers and working holiday makers already in the country - we need to ensure they can safely cross borders to meet labour demand in different industries."
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In order to access the permit, seasonal workers will be required to declare they have not travelled in Victoria, outside the border zone, in the last 14 days.
They will also be required to produce evidence of their place of residence and place of work.
After pushing hard to overturn the seasonal worker ban, Citrus Australia praised the new decision but urged the government to consult with relevant communities and industries before making such drastic changes in future.
Citrus Australia chief executive officer, Nathan Hancock, said the initial decision to close the border with no warning or consultation should have been avoided.
"The decision made little sense, and although a logical conclusion was finally reached, growers and workers were left in limbo for 10 days," he said.
"The conclusion was reached through significant work by many parties and could have been reached earlier if not for delays caused by NSW Health."
Mr Hancock said growers working around the clock will minimise damage caused by the worker restrictions.
Support from packers will ensure quality fruit will be delivered to domestic and export markets.
"We are pleased for our growers, who work tirelessly every year to produce world class citrus, and the seasonal workers that are essential to harvest every year," Mr Hancock said.
"Our priority from the onset of the pandemic has always been to help our growers prepare the safest working environment possible.
"They worked hard to do this and we're glad that their harvest can resume safely.
Open dialogue needed
NSW Farmers encouraged clear communication between departments to ensure these issues are addressed when health orders change.
"Sudden shutdowns cause significant disruption to agricultural industries, many of which are already dealing with a difficult harvest after drought and bushfires," Mr Jackson said.
NSW Farmers thanked the NSW Department of Primary Industries for its work in representing growers to find a workable solution.
On the vegetable front, Ausveg has urged its growers to assess their labour needs and forward plan as the number of foreign workers falls due to the restrictions on international and interstate travel.
Ausveg chief executive officer, James Whiteside, said with the international border restrictions and with no clear end in sight, it was difficult to for growers and industry to plan for an international workforce.
"It is also made more difficult with domestic border closures, which is why it is crucial growers plan and advertise their workforce needs as early as possible," Mr Whiteside said.
"Growers will always have a preference to employ local workers, and the reality is that our industry cannot rely on international workers as they have done in the past to supplement the workers they need that cannot be sourced from the local labour pool."
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