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Berry harvest reveals labour challenges and advice

Industry Best Practice

Other industries are feeling the pinch of a reduced supply of labour already, with alternate sources of labour and maximizing the efficiency of workers the advice from the berry industry.  

Work continues to go into attracting Australia’s domestic workforce, with APAL advocating for significant labour incentives for Australians, particularly students, to work on farms.   

However Berries Australia Executive Director Rachel Mackenzie stressed the importance of looking at alternate options when it comes to sourcing labour. 

 “I urge all of you to do your own due diligence about worker availability, bearing in mind that backpacker numbers have more than halved since this time last year,” she said.   

“If you have historically relied on backpackers, then think seriously about where your workers will come from.   

“Do not rely solely on information from labour hire companies as I have heard numerous examples where they don’t admit there is a shortage until the day they can’t get workers.”  

Rachel also indicated that those backpackers that do remain in the country won’t automatically be inclined to  follow the picking route that they traditionally might have done  

“A lot of the ones that we usually get are working at the moment on cherry orchards. The movement of labour that normally takes place isn’t the same.   

“Don’t make assumptions that it’ll be like it was last year – it won’t.”  

Maximising efficiency of available labour, look at all available sources 

 Get in early, have a plan and prioritise – both blocks and tasks.  

That’s the advice for growers when it comes to maximising the most of available labour over the next few months.  

Speaking at yesterday’s Future Orchards virtual walk, Fruit Help’s Nic Finger and AgFirst’s Jonathan Brookes stressed the importance of getting in early when it comes to organising labour.  

“You’ve got to be looking at labour demand early every year, but especially this year,” Nic said.   

“There won’t be the luxury to call on a Friday and ask for an extra 20 workers for the next week, because there’s a bit to do.   

“Looking at where to get bang for your buck, and how to prioritise labourWhen it comes to prioritising block tasks, have a decision-making matrix.   

“In terms of sourcing, if need be, plan for new labour sources.   

“There might be a number of people willing to give it a go.   

“At the end of the day someone having a go is going to be better than the fruit dropping on the ground.”  

Nic and Jonathan outlined a number of key points for growers to take on when it came to maximising the efficiency of labour, focusing on assessing labour demand, prioritising tasks, and having a realistic plan.  

The latter piece of advice is important when understanding workforce requirements, given the unskilled and inexperienced worker is likely to be less productive overall. OrchardNet has tools that can help predict workforce demands dependent on factors including worker productivity 

Brooks also noted that given the costs associated with labour are higher during harvest than any other time, maximising the fruit value during harvest would be critical this harvest. While this is important every year, focusing summer tasks that would make harvest more efficient, and prioritising quality over volume were ways that this could be done.  

Yesterday’s virtual orchard walks can be viewed here.  

Labour / employment

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