A shortage of workers on the Lindenow Flats has caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of organic celery to be mulched back into the ground.
“We’re behind with hand weeding, we’ re behind with harvest,” Busch Organics’ Kane Busch said.
“We’re behind with everything because of the labour shortage.”
Mr Busch said the crop was worth $150,000 in sales plus another at least $50,000 in growing costs like water, fertiliser and hand weeding.
Growers are blaming State Government inaction and a failure to make a plan to get overseas workers into the state.
“It’s pretty average, we feel forgotten and not appreciated,” Mr Busch said.
“It’s a massive blow, we had a good season last year and received more orders so we increased our plantings by 25 per cent.”
It’s particularly bitter when other states like South Australia have recommenced seasonal worker flights and Tasmania has overseas workers on farms.
“We have seven people with their paperwork signed waiting in Vanuatu for the okay to come across,” he said. State Opposition Leader, Michael
O’Brien, visited the mulched crop as part of a short East Gippsland tour that encompassed Paynesville and Lakes Entrance last week.
“It’s a crying shame,” Mr O’Brien said.
“If someone set fire to $150,000 cash in Melbourne people would be outraged.
“The State Government needs to step up, we need to get people into quarantine and out on farms because we need crops harvested.
“The new agriculture minister’s first task is to listen to farmers.
“We know we have a trained workforce overseas, the government just isn’t doing enough to bridge the gap.
“This Labor government doesn’t appear to understand how important agriculture is.”
Bulmer Farms’ Bill Bulmer, also the chair of AUSVEG, said farmers had been putting this precise situation forward for the past six months and is predicting the situation will become worse.
“We’ve put solutions forward where we could have had campsites to quarantine people,” Mr Bulmer said.
“We’re not operating seasonal businesses, we’re 24/7.
“Why Australians won’t take up work is a generational issue not a COVID issue, and it’s not just us, they’re crying out in town for tyre fitters, cooks, hospitality workers and mechanics.
“JobKeeper and JobSeeker are not helping the situation.
“We have a socialist green man in our premier and a new agriculture minister whose favourite comment is ‘no comment’.
“We’re 20 per cent down on our workforce but when the Sunraysia and Goulburn Valley areas get going it’ll be much worse. “Already there has been $39 million worth of crop losses across the country due to the labour shortage.”
Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, said the situation was similar at Covino Farms near Longford and the abattoir at Poowong, both businesses unsure of having enough workers.
Some Pacific Islander workers were being shared with fruit growers.
A crop of 50,000 organic celery plants was mulched into the ground last Thursday, unharvested in time due to the COVID-restrictions induced labour shortage. PICTURED: Kane Busch, of Busch Organics (second from left), with Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, Victorian Opposition Leader, Michael O’Brien, and Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien. K8-1880