Growers are beginning to worry there will not be enough backpackers this season to pick their fruit.
But with the peak of the season yet to reach the Goulburn Valley, it may be too early to tell.
Fruit Growers Victoria chairman and Mooroopna orchardist Gary Godwill said growers in the region would need a lot of spare hands in the coming weeks to pick Williams pears, which is the main variety in the area.
‘‘Farmers will be going flat out and people will be screaming for pickers,’’ Mr Godwill said.
He said getting the large numbers of pickers exactly when the pears are pre-ripe was always a challenge, and orchards usually rely on a stream of temporary workers, including backpackers.
‘‘From the figures I am hearing, there could be 40 to 60 per cent less (backpackers) and if that is true we could be in trouble,’’ Mr Godwill said.
While those figures aren’t confirmed, Ardmona grower Mitchell McNab, of HV McNab and Son Orchards, said it was too early to tell if less backpackers were coming.
‘‘The issue is whether there’s enough (backpackers) over the whole season. It’s probably too early to say there is a shortage but time will tell,’’ Mr McNab said.
Scott Cameron from labour hire company MADEC agreed with Mr McNab.
‘‘At the beginning of last week (January 31) we were struggling to fill vacancies, but it is a weekto-week thing,’’ Mr Cameron said.
Mr McNab said the family mostly relied on backpackers but were trialling other working visa holders.
‘‘We use backpackers pretty much for all our harvest labour. We are trialling 10 people who have come for six months on a 457 visa,’’ he said.
Mr Godwill said the pears would need to be picked in the next few weeks, so fruit was in an ideal condition for market.
‘‘There is an urgency to get them off before they go mature.
‘‘Once they have a little bit of yellow on them the supermarkets do not want them, because they do not have that shelf life.’’
Mr McNab hoped backpackers were still around when apples needed to be picked, which would be later than normal.
‘‘The season as a whole is a bit later this year because of climatic conditions so hopefully there will be people in the area, later, to harvest our crops.
‘‘Backpackers come in waves and leave in waves. As a result, we are hoping people will be around to help harvest our apples.’’