Orange region cherry and apple growers have backed changes that will free up visa arrangements for overseas backpackers and workers.
Orchardist and NSW Farmers’ Horticulture committee chair Guy Gaeta said he expected there would be a significant increase in the number of workers available to growers.
“We should get 50 per cent more people coming to work,” he said.
The visa arrangements, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, will open the doors to workers from more European, Asian and Pacific Island countries.
The age limit for eligible workers from some countries will rise from 30 to 35 years and backpackers will able to stay on the one farm for 12 months, instead of the current six month limit.
However, Mr Gaeta said the changes were not likely to be in place until next year’s cherry harvest.
He said farmers wanted to hire local workers but they were not applying.
Mr Gaeta said Orange farms needed about 1200 pickers but only attracted about 30-40 locals.
On his farm he needed about 70 workers to pick his cherry crop but last harvest he only had four local workers.
“In the majority of times locals don’t apply,” he said.
“It is only short term but they can really earn some good money, but no one is interested in doing it.
“Our pickers earn between $200 and $600 a day.
“The opportunity is there, you do have to work hard but the results are there.”
He said backpackers were “very good workers. They want the job and they want the money.”
Mr Gaeta said farmers did not support the government’s push for unemployed people to do the work.
“We are not work for the dole providers. Where the government wants to see long-term unemployed engaged in farm work they should support the grower to provide skilling and training opportunities,” he said.
Orchardist Peter West also welcomed the changes.
He said his property needed about 40-50 pickers during the one month cherry season and 25-30 pickers during the three month apple season.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
Mr West said they were looking to start picking cherries in three to four weeks.
“Everything is looking good. We’ve got a good crop, possibly a bit larger than last year,” he said.
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