Pick­ing con­cerns

Shepparton News - Country News - - FRONT PAGE - By Bar­clay White and Rod­ney Woods

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.’’

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