A RECRUITMENT agency for fruit pickers is offering glamping tents, entertainment, amenities blocks and three meals a day with drinks in an attempt to lure international students onto the harvest trail.
Growers around the region have been concerned for months that if they can't attract enough casual staff over summer fruit will wither on the tree, leading to exorbitant prices for cherries and other fruits over Christmas.
NSW Central Tablelands cherry grower Guy Gaeta, Nashdale, who has been packing cherries on behalf of a Mudgee grower ahead of his own season from December, backed the idea of catered tent accommodation for pickers, costing $75 per person per day.
"It's not cheap, but it's OK with the meals included," he said.
Newcastle International College and agency CozWine have received state government funding for a project, Farm Jobs Connect, aimed at getting international students from Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong into places such as Orange to pick fruit.
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The COVID pandemic cut off the usual supply of foreign backpackers, who typically had their own accommodation via vans and tents.
Attracting workers without a steady supply of cheap accommodation has proved difficult, which led to CozWine putting together an accommodation system that would allow growers to have pickers and packers stay on site.
"We've sourced tents from the people who supplied them to the music festival Splendour in the Grass," said CozWine's Rob Millington.
"They are COVID-safe and sleep two people to each tent.
"This is more like glamping - there is an amenity block with toilets and showers for each group of four people."
Mr Millington said the accommodation sites had a dining area with wooden floor and an area for relaxing, with a widescreen TV.
For $75 per day - paid by either the grower or passed on to the workers - the pickers and packers receive accommodation plus three meals a day with drinks and snacks.
"We also try and provide some local entertainment," said Mr Millington.
Newcastle International College director and principal Sven Schottmann said they hoped to place 300 students into picking work over summer.
He said the pandemic had left many foreign students at his college and around the state stuck in limbo.
"A lot of students worked in hospitality and those jobs just disappeared," said associate professor Schottmann.
"Many of them were relying on their savings or had to get help from their parents at home.
"We heard through the media that growers in the regions are looking to employ casual workers over the harvest.
"The idea is that linking students with part-time casual work in agriculture and horticulture will help relieve financial distress on the part of our international students - while at the same time helping meet the demand for labour over summer."
Associate professor Schottmann said he wanted "international students to have an Australian summer experience, gain new insights and experience parts of NSW which they may have never ventured into before".
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