THE region's citrus growers are worried the recent Fair Work Commission decision on piece rates will make their industry less competitive.
The Fair Work Commission earlier in November maintained the ability for farmers to pay workers on the Horticulture Award piece rates, but instituted a guaranteed minimum casual rate of $25.41 per hour.
The piece rate means fruit and vegetable pickers are paid for the amount of produce they harvest.
Griffith and District Citrus Growers Association chairman Vito Mancini said the impact of the floor price for labour would be felt most by smaller farmers.
"It will make it quite difficult for small businesses to keep functioning as they are," Mr Mancini said.
It's not only the cost of labour, but the accounting of hours worked, breaks taken plus other requirements.
Mr Mancini said growers would also need to navigate pressures between pickers and how many bins they filled.
"For pickers that are experienced they'll want to get more than $25.41 an hour," he said.
"It's an extra layer of pressure, and we're already having a hard time trying to find people to work in the heat and the cold."
Mr Mancini said in time it could mean farmers move from growing citrus to crops with mechanical harvesting like nuts or winegrapes.
He said the piece rate was a key tool in Australia citrus being competitive against South African and South American growers.
"If we've got a product that too expensive, we're not going to have an industry," Mr Mancini said.
"Chile and South African fruit is half our price at the moment."
He said citrus growers would look to find ways to support the development of mechanised or robotic harvesting.
A NSW Farmers spokesman said the decision meant their members were worrying about the sustainability of their enterprises.
"The overwhelming majority of farmers do the right thing by their workers in terms of pay and conditions, and the number of workers returning to work on the same farms year after year is a strong sign that the current piece work arrangements are fit for purpose," he said.
"There are very real fears that our farmers, who already need to compete with cheap imported produce on supermarket shelves, will be squeezed even tighter by a decision that does not take all factors into account, add to the administrative burden of farmers, and invariably result in higher workforce management costs."
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