Cherry growers anxious for pickers as harvest time closes in

A last-minute compromise deal to levy foreign backpackers with a 15 per cent tax has been welcomed by Orange growers but they are still worried by a lack of pickers.

Normally I would have 100 names on the books to call on. You could count them on both hands at the moment. - Fiona Hall, cherry grower

Managing director of the Caernarvon Cherry Company Fiona Hall said they should have come to a resolution 10 months ago. “We’re just 10 days from picking.”

On Monday federal treasurer Scott Morrison announced a 15 per cent tax on backpackers would replace the 32.5 per cent levy announced in the 2015 Federal Budget.

CHERRY RIPE: Cherry grower Fiona Hall is pleased with the backpacker tax compromise but still worried about a lack of pickers for Orange cherry crops. Photo: DAVID FITZSIMONS

CHERRY RIPE: Cherry grower Fiona Hall is pleased with the backpacker tax compromise but still worried about a lack of pickers for Orange cherry crops. Photo: DAVID FITZSIMONS

Mrs Hall said she was well down on picker numbers over previous years and was worried the high-tax threat had scared backpackers away.

“Normally I would have 100 names on the books to call on. You could count them on both hands at the moment,” she said.

“The backpackers have made the decision of what country they are going to seven months ago, not now.” 

Mrs Hall said this year’s cherry harvest was later than normal with the peak due between Christmas and New Year – when backpackers preferred to be partying than picking.

She said stone fruit was time critical. “When cherries are ready to be picked you’ve got to get them off.”

Mrs Hall said the industry was big business to Orange with this year’s crop estimated at $34 million. About $20 million of that will be packed at her shed.

Grower Troy Williams said the tax compromise “takes a lot of hassle off us and the anxiety of knowing whether we will get backpackers”.

However, he said the government may have over-estimated the cost of low taxes for backpackers.

“They are only using that money to spend on their holidays in Australia. It all goes back somewhere into Australia,” he said.

“It would be interesting to know how many of them actually claim the tax back. A larger percentage of them would jump on the plane and head home and not worry about it.”

Dutch backpacker Niek Hendrix is working as a cherry packer in Orange. He said the tax had discouraged others coming to Australia.

“I reckon a lot of people will choose to go somewhere else. New Zealand is very close to Australia and the tax rules are better,” he said.

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