Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
Australian farmers produced the same amount of fruit and vegetables last year as they did in 2019 despite international borders being closed and the horticulture industry pleading for more workers, a study has found. Research released today found the number of workers employed on fruit and vegetable farms dropped by eight per cent last year, but output remained relatively unchanged. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) found the number of workers dropped by 11,000 in 2020-21 compared to the year before.
Despite this barrier, overall horticulture output levels are estimated to have remained relatively steady, partly due to an improvement in seasonal conditions. Output has also been maintained through a range of adaptations that many horticulture producers made in response to the reduced availability of overseas workers. The research, based on farmers surveys, found that horticulture farms employed around 135,000 workers across 2020-21, including family, permanent and contract employees.
ABARES also found that retail prices for fruit and vegetables had remained relatively stable, increasing by just 5 per cent at the checkout, despite exceptional growing conditions which can typically drive oversupply and reduced retail prices. In September last year, an industry commissioned report suggested the farm sector would be 26,000 workers short for the summer harvest because Australia had closed its borders, in response to COVID-19.