NSW Farmers is urging the Federal Government to prioritise addressing the seasonal worker shortage as fruit and vegetable waste continues to mount.
NSW Farmers president, James Jackson, said National Cabinet must give states more flexibility to balance competing imperatives around bringing people into Australia.
"While we all have empathy for stranded Australians overseas, we need governments to also show empathy for family farmers who face the very real prospect of having to watch their crops rot due to a lack of labour," Mr Jackson said.
More than $45 million worth of crop losses have been reported by farmers across the country on the National Lost Crop Register.
A wide array of crops are represented on the register, including berries, tomatoes, carrots, citrus, bananas, pumpkins, chilli and leafy green vegetables.
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Mr Jackson said in NSW, berry and cherry farmers estimate crop losses have reached almost $8 million in value.
"The wool, livestock and grains sectors are also concerned about the draining pool of seasonal workers. There are less than 50,000 working holiday makers remaining in Australia, compared to around 200,000 pre-COVID levels, and they are leaving to return home at around 1000 per week," Mr Jackson said.
"Demand for seasonal harvest workers will peak in late February and March, and we estimate we are 8000 short in NSW, and 26,000 short nationally.
"Upcoming harvests include continuing stone fruit, table grapes, apples, vegetables and citrus."
"We agree that National Cabinet must first concentrate on getting Australians home. The next priority should be to provide our farmers a pathway through this crisis.
"Our farmers need an economically viable solution, for example on-farm or regional quarantine arrangements for seasonal workers."
"We need to get seasonal workers here in a Covid-safe way, but it also needs to be cost effective so farmers can focus to do what they do best supply local high quality fresh food.
"If National Cabinet is unwilling to look at options other than quarantining arrivals at five star hotels, then we need governments to contribute to reducing these costs. $3000 is too high for farmers and these costs can't be passed on due to market power of supermarket chains."
Mr Jackson said NSW Farmers would support giving the NSW Government greater control over managing the make-up of the state's arrivals cap so that international workers can be brought in.
"Only around 330 Australians have taken up the Federal Government's regional relocation assistance of $6000.
"Domestic labour will not provide a solution to the major shortages we are facing."
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