Fruit, veg crops being left to rot: Labor

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
·2-min read

Fruit and vegetable crop losses across the country as a result of labour shortages continued to mount over the festive season and now top $38 million.

A national lost crop register was launched in mid-December to capture the cost to industry and the economy from a lack of seasonal workers available to harvest fresh fruit and vegetables due to international travel bans.

The losses included berries, tomatoes, carrots, citrus, bananas, pumpkins, chilli and leafy green vegetables.

"Australians will be stunned to learn that quality produce is being left to rot on farms across the country because the Morrison government has again failed to do its job," Labor's agriculture spokesman Ed Husic said on Friday.

"For years Australian farmers have been crying out for the Morrison government to deliver a plan for the agricultural workforce."

In a joint statement, the National Farmers Federation, the Horticulture Council and industry body Growcom said 55 growers from five states and territories had losses to date.

"Our belief is that reports to the register so far are just the tip of the iceberg," Growcom manager for policy and advocacy Richard Shannon said.

"As awareness of the register grows and as labour supply remains tight, the recorded losses will likely only increase."

The horticulture industry has been warning of labour shortages since March last year as a result of international travel bans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Mr Shannon welcomed the incentives offered by governments so far to encourage Australians to take up harvest roles, he said it was clear more needed to be done.

"Without urgent action our labour supply situation will only continue to deteriorate and growers will keep losing crops until international travel reaches the same scale it was before the pandemic, expected to be more than two years away," he said.

The industry has been calling for an expansion of the trans-Tasman bubble to include COVID-free Pacific Island nations as a way for workers to enter Australia, outside of the current quarantine pathways and the international returned travellers cap.