Recap: Spring orchard walks and Pear MasterclassResearch & Extension
September Orchard walks: Labour – what is your strategy for this season?
September saw the Future Orchards Orchard Walks stream to more than 250 individuals across eight apple and pear growing regions, with South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania returning to a traditional in-orchard walk.
The orchard walks, delivered in partnership with AgFirst, focused on the need for pre-planning to accommodate changing labour availability, giving growers tools to inform decision making under a range of labour supply scenarios.
This focus on labour availability came in response to concerns raised within industry.
Do you know what your labour demand looks like?
In June there were around 86,000 backpackers in Australia, a number that is declining by approximately 8% each month. Around 8000 Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) workers are currently in Australia with limited opportunities to enable more workers to come. There is unlikely to be an increase in traditional labour sources in the immediate future. On a more positive note, applications for second year visas have remained stable and some transient workers are choosing to stay longer on orchards with ‘nowhere else to go’ as regulations restrict movement around the country.
Polls conducted during the webinar indicated that 43% of respondents were ‘really worried’ and 67% of respondents were ‘slightly worried’ about labour supply this season. Discussions with growers during the panel session did highlight regional differences in potential labour shortages, particularly where borders are closed.
What are other growers doing regarding the workforce they do have access to?
Suggestions during the panel discussion included making the orchard worker-friendly, accommodating different abilities by reducing the size/weight of picking bags, working with accommodation providers, and most importantly making sure a COVID safe plan is in place.
Pre-planning in the orchard is key
Based on a model orchard requiring 800-1000 hours per ha in a typical year, with the labour demands increasing as harvest approaches, AgFirst’s Ross Wilson and Craig HornBlow say now is the time to think about how to spread the labour demands across smaller peaks to take the pressure off while maintaining a strong business result.
Now is the time to plan your harvest window.
To help with this, AgFirst have developed a Labour Decision Tree. Throughout their presentation Ross and Craig consider seven key decisions you might make to manage the labour demand in your orchard. Some options included thinning harder, making harvest more efficient by improving colour, reducing the number of picks, diverting some blocks to fruit and investing in platforms technologies.
You can view the rest of the Orchard Walk recordings and the FLA video updates in the video and webinars section of APAL’s website.
The Pear Masterclass also streamed online during September. Dirk van Hees from FruitConsult in The Netherlands presenting what is happening in pear research and orchards in Europe and Australian growers, advisers and researchers discussed the Australian perspective. A series of three webinars were held across September to cover Planting Systems and Rootstocks, Varieties and Fertilisation.