NSW Farmers horticulture committee chairman and orchardist Guy Gaeta welcomes a decision by the Australian government to deliver an agriculture visa.
Mr Gaeta said NSW Farmers has been campaigning for three years to get the Australian Agriculture visa to provide a long-term, reliable workforce for upcoming harvests.
"We've been talking to the government about this agriculture visa for the last three years at least," Mr Gaeta said.
He said without it there would not be enough workers to pick cherries in Orange at the end of November.
He said although he had some great workers last year there was a higher than normal turnover of workers among people who were not used to that type of work. He said 95 people working on and off picking and packing cherries at his orchard last year. Usually there are 40 people for the season, 20 picking and 20 packing.
"They are not taking any jobs from any Australians," Mr Gaeta said.
"We've relied mostly on backpackers but in the last 18 months they've been going home.
"If we can get at least 5000 people between now and Christmas it would be really good, people can stay for up to three years and they can come back whenever they like, it's an open visa."
Mr Gaeta said as a result of the workforce shortage in the past 18 months he's known farmers in other areas who have planted fewer strawberries, cucumber and lettuce because they did not know if they could get it all harvested. He said less fruit would mean less supply and higher prices for consumers.
Mr Gaeta said the workers who come to Australia on the visa will undergo government COVID precautions and they will only be able to work in agricultural type businesses.
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"We need to make sure these people get treated with dignity and they get paid the right money," he said.
Federal Member for Calare Andrew Gee said the on-farm workforce shortage is a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic and the absence of backpackers due to international border closures.
"Our primary producers across Calare have done it tough, doing battle with the drought, local bushfires, floods, and the mouse plague. Now, a severe labour shortage threatens to disrupt what could be a record harvest for many producers," Mr Gee said.
"During last summer's harvest our orchardists were roping in friends and family to pick fruit. We even had an old community hall in the foothills of Mt Canobolas full of Sydney boarding school students who had been rounded up to come out west and help pick cherries.
"If there were Aussies who would do the work that would be great, but in reality, it's been years since locals wanted to do fruit picking. That's why the Australian Agriculture visa is vital, providing a long-term, reliable workforce our local primary producers have been crying out for.
Mr Gee said the visa will be in place by the end of September, with the full implementation complete within three years.
"The visa will be open to applicants from a range of countries and will be available to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers," he said.
"This will greatly assist the fruit and grain industries in Calare as they manage and plan out their future workforce needs.
"It will complement the Pacific programs we have got in place, and we will also be considering permanent residency options under the new Ag visa," he said.
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