LABOUR shortages at harvest are thought to have resulted in losses of as much as $70 million as peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots were either left on trees or downgraded on quality due to delays.
Industry body Summerfruit Australia's chief executive officer Trevor Ranford says they had crunched the numbers and for the 2021-22 stone fruit season, unharvested and over-ripe fruit lost in the packing process and lost export markets adds up to a $70 million loss.
"The lack of labour affected it in a number of ways - there was some crop not harvested at all and left on a tree," he said.
"Or the length of time it took to harvest with less numbers affected the quality of the fruit and it didn't come up to specifications in the packing shed."
Mr Ranford said he estimated export figures to be down as much as 15 per cent to 18pc, related to the labour shortage.
This comes as the industry was expecting a "overall good season".
"Overall, we would have been looking at a 130,000 tonne crop," he said.
While waiting on total figures, he expected the figure harvested was probably 10-15pc less than that, with the potential the losses were even higher.
Mr Ranford said all stonefruit regions across Australia were affected to differing degrees.
"I know of one grower (near Mildura, Vic) that didn't pick 35 hectares of fruit, because they didn't have the labour," he said.
"Packing sheds were running at 50-70pc capacity."
Mr Ranford said while there had been steps put in place to try and accommodate for the labour shortage, they had not worked.
Instead, Summerfruit Australia has put its support behind the ag visa, saying it was necessary to regional economies.
"We need a range of programs, that we can piece together like a jigsaw," Mr Ranford said.
"The Pacific Island program has been an important part but industry still sees the ag visa as another tool."
He said the industry had been working with the government, lead by agriculture minister David Littleproud, to select approved employers, to ensure there would be no risks to the workers.
"We already have a country signed up, it just adds additional opportunities," he said.
Mr Ranford said the industry was not solely reliant on the ag visa, with backpackers returning and more "grey nomads" moving about to provide more "tools in the toolkit" but he said the ag visa was also a necessary tool.
Summerfruit Australia has called on all parties and candidates to share their plans to deal with potential labour shortages, saying without adequate planning, the goal for Australian agriculture to reach $100 billion by 2030 would fall short.
Sign up here to Good Fruit and Vegetables weekly newsletter for all the latest horticulture news each Thursday...
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.