ORANGE’S horticulture industry would grind to a halt if it wasn’t for the work of backpackers picking fruit every season, according to orchardist Guy Gaeta.
Mr Gaeta said in recent years the numbers of local people and travelling seasonal workers willing to slog it out in the fields picking fruit had dwindled and international backpackers had picked up the slack.
“If it wasn’t for backpackers most of Australia’s horticultural crops wouldn’t be picked,” he said.
“They are willing to do any type of work ... and they’re really trustworthy.
“Years ago a lot of seasonal workers travelled around the countryside and a few locals took time off work but now you can count them on your fingers.”
Mr Gaeta praised the work of backpackers on his property and said he was concerned recent events including two tent fires and a payment dispute between pickers and an employment contractor could deter backpackers from returning to Orange for future seasons.
“If something happens we won’t be able to pick our apples or cherry crops,” he said.
“I can’t fault them ... all they want to do is earn some money.
“For a person to say he hasn’t been paid, he hasn’t been paid. People take advantage of them.”
Mr Gaeta said has remained in contact with some backpackers who had worked at his orchard over the years and even received birthday cards from some.
He said Orange needed more camping areas for backpackers.
“I often see kids sleeping on the side of the road like gypsies,” he said.
Taste Orange marketing manager Charlotte Gundry said backpackers did add value to the local economy, although they may not spend hundreds of dollars like more affluent travellers.
She said there was a demand for more backpacker accommodation during the busy fruit picking seasons but there may not be enough interest to make it sustainable all year round.
“There has been lot of discussion about camping in the region and the lack of quality facilities,” she said.