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CEO’s Report: Fair pricing, and a new government

News

Phil Turnbull – APAL CEO, shares this update to industry in the latest edition of AFG. 

 

As the Autumn edition of AFG magazine goes to print, APAL is delighted to host our first APAL Industry Forum in three years, a long overdue opportunity to bring industry back together.

We particularly welcome the return of the APAL Awards of Excellence and the opportunity to recognise and celebrate some of the exceptional people across our industry and their work.

We are also looking forward to sharing with industry the progress of projects underway on fruit quality consistency, developing new export markets, improving merchandising in store and on understanding what new recycling technology might mean for the future of packaging.

With industry facing one of the toughest years in recent memory, with rising fuel, labour and input costs combining with prices below the cost of production, it is more important than ever that we expand market options and make sure that every apple our consumers bite into is the best quality we can deliver.

If we look to our longer-term future, our industry has increased its production significantly since 2019, well in excess of any domestic market growth. With exports still at very low levels, we have put enormous pressure on the local market to buy this additional volume. Export markets must become a long-term priority of all apple and pear growers, if the industry is to be sustainable into the future

Fair pricing

We have heard from many of you of your frustration and anger at bin returns that do not cover the cost of production and are unsustainable long term.

As a matter of urgency APAL has been lobbying the federal government and retailers to support sustainable pricing on Australian apples and pears.

It was therefore very pleasing to see the federal government back fairer prices with a $1.75m funding commitment to improve marketing transparency and bargaining power.

Even more pleasing was its prioritisation of the apple and pear industry, which will be the first surveyed by ABARES for a cost of production study.

Minimum wage

Labour costs are the largest contributor to our cost of production, and reports are that the introduction of the guaranteed minimum hourly wage for fruit picking on 28 April to provide a floor for piece rate earnings is adding additional compliance costs at a time industry can least afford it.

Many of you are reporting the need for extra staff to manage the supervision and additional record keeping required to comply with the new regulations.

Recording hours, including unpaid breaks and understanding productivity in real time to manage teams will add additional pressure. In the current issue growers around the regions share the steps they are taking and systems they are using.

APAL strongly supports the fair payment of workers we depend upon to bring in the harvest. We must be marketing our fruit as not only the best quality fruit but produced from a system where workers are fairly and well treated. Our consumers expect no less.

However, APAL believes the Fair Work Commission failed to understand the unique labour requirements of the industry.

With the implementation of the wage floor, it will also be imperative that the federal government enforces these changes to ensure growers that do the right thing are not put at a commercial disadvantage by those who seek to circumvent the system.

Retailers have an important role to play in ensuring they have processes in place to ensure they only purchase from growers who can demonstrate compliance with the award. APAL welcomes the recent signing of an MoU between Woolworths and the Retail Supply Alliance to promote fair conditions and ethical sourcing.

New Labor government

With the implementation of the wage floor and the removal in mid-2021 of the requirement for British backpackers to undertake farm work to extend their stay in Australia, industry will inevitably depend on Pacific Islands workers for a larger proportion of the workforce.

APAL believes the Australian Agriculture Visa (AgVisa) implemented prior to the election is an important supplement to the deservedly well-regard Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme.

A priority for APAL following the election of the Labor government on 21 May will be to work with government to ensure the AgVisa proceeds.

Future Orchards® walks and R&D Day

We are delighted to be back in the orchard for Future Orchard® walks in June. Starting in Stanthorpe on 13 June, the winter series will focus on reviewing this season’s crop, setting and meeting targets for next year and as well as informed decision making.

Plans are also well underway for the APAL R&D event on 8-9 August where we hope growers and industry stakeholders will join us for a full agenda of the latest research and insights into smarter growing and storing and data-driven decision making, followed by an informative day visiting Gippsland orchards and packing facilities.

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