By Growcom CEO David Thomson

Finding the right labour and skills at the right time and in the right place has always been a challenge for the horticulture industry. And coronavirus has only added an additional level of difficulty.

At the beginning, when international travel was restricted, our immediate thought was that we were looking down the barrel of a labour shortage, as fewer overseas workers would be coming to Australia.

But as borders become even more rigid and the tourism and restaurant sectors experienced a rapid downturn, we found ourselves with what is likely to be a surplus of labour.

So we’ve been on a labour supply rollercoaster. But the ride isn’t over just yet.

As restrictions on domestic movement are relaxed, and restaurants, resorts, cafes and hotels begin reopening, we can expect the pool of labour available to shrink.

And when international travel gets going, backpackers and seasonal workers who’ve already stayed far longer in Australia than they planned will start booking flights. Our labour pool is going to shrink again, and possibly quite quickly.

At the first signs of disruption, Growcom began work on establishing a detailed forecast of labour demand across Queensland until September. We’ve shared results with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries who’ve lent their expertise and own data to develop a detailed roadmap of the Queensland harvest trail. 

With this insight, we’ve been able to influence government policy and provide confidence that our industry won’t be caught short without labour.

Visa holders already in the country have received extensions. Requirements concerning the movement of seasonal workers around Queensland balance the interests of both public health and business continuity.

Our focus now shifts beyond our winter season to ensure labour supply through to the end of the year and beyond.

We want to thank the growers who have shared their labour needs with us. And ask that they respond again when we put out a call for information in the future.

Without it, the plans government put in place will miss the mark and the rollercoaster will get more turbulent than it needs to be.