Two plane loads of Pacific Islander workers have arrived in Queensland to work as fruit pickers and in abattoirs to save fresh produce from going to waste.
About 175 workers from the Solomon Islands landed in Brisbane on a Virgin Australia fight from Honiara on Wednesday.
The flight was the second of four bringing workers from the Pacific Islanders to aid farmers and keep tonnes of food from being squandered.
There will be 650 workers brought into north and central Queensland through the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme, but industry groups said another 6,600 were needed to fill the essential roles.
The workers were allowed into the country despite border closures to fill roles in the farm labour industry, and are now in quarantine in a Spring Hill hotel.
Richard Shannon from Growcom told the Courier Mail the price of produce could increase following the farm labour shortage.
‘We haven’t yet had crop losses across the board that have resulted in a significant shortfall and affect prices, but that is something we’re watching very closely and there is still a real potential for that to happen,’ he said.
Farmers across the country have called out to thousands of Australians who found themselves out of work during the coronavirus pandemic to fill the void left by backpackers on the harvest trail.
Australian growers rely on a steady influx of foreign workers to pick produce, but travel bans have caused their usual sources of seasonal labour to dry up due to border closures arising from Covid-19.
If pickers can not be found and the food rots, the resulting shortage of supply will send the prices of fruit and vegetables soaring across the country.
There were 213,000 Queenslanders unemployed in October, but farmers were still left struggling to fill the vital roles.
The federal government announced a relocation allowance of up to $6,000 for jobless Australians to move into the industry, but shortages in the field still remain.
The foreign workers were flown in because locals did not want to take the jobs, which Mr Shannon said don’t suit Australian permanent residents.
‘Crops need to be harvested intensively, but over a short period of time, so it doesn’t suit permanent residents to move around the state chasing the work,’ he said.
Simfresh citrus farm manager Josh Dasecke had six workers from Vanuatu brought into their farm in Monduran near Bundaberge.
He said the foreign workers were invaluable and allowed the mandarin season to run smoothly.
‘If we didn’t get those six boys in, we wouldn’t have gotten through everything we have been able to do this year,’ Mr Dasecke said.