NO WORK: A sign spotted outside a Stanthorpe farm.
NO WORK: A sign spotted outside a Stanthorpe farm.

Southern Downs farmers bear brunt of price hike


One Southern Downs farmers has lashed out over an expected fresh fruit and vegetable price hike in the fallout of an Australian worker shortage.

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences has revealed fruit and vegetable could soar by 30 per cent following March quarter forecasts.

The prices of summer vegetables, stone and pome fruit, such as apples and pears will jump by 7 to 29 per cent this year and peak harvest period food such as table grapes are expected to record the highest price rises.

For Killarney farmer Jim Watts, the news wasn’t surprising.

“I think prices are going to get ridiculous at this present stage. I haven’t planted and I know a lot of farmers have done the same thing I’ve done,” he said.

Mr Watts said he would need about 10-15 pickers to help harvest crops but hadn’t been able to recruit any workers due to the international ban and an ‘unwilling’ Australian workforce.

Mr Watts’ statements match Growcom information which revealed four in 10 growers were planning to reduce production in the wake of the shortage.

It left the Killarney farmer especially frustrated over shopper outrage about the hike.

“There’s an inflation rate every 12 months for farmers. From fertiliser to fuel to feed but farmers never get an increase for what they’re doing,” he said.

“It’s only a matter of time before straw on the camel's back starts to break and once that’s gone, it’s gone.

At local produce store Aratula markets, who have a Stanthorpe outlet, the effects of worsening worker shortage had already been creeping in over the past year, according to manager Claire Edwards.

“Prices have been all over the place, whether or not things are available, it’s all been out of our control,” she said.

“It is supply and demand. One month cauliflower could be $7 and another month $3. When prices are too high it’s because we can’t get certain stock.

“It’s pretty hard to figure out what to do and as a small fruit shop, it can be very hard on us.”

Ms Edwards said it was easy to see how the worker shortage compounded by nature could affect prices.

“I know for a fact I found it hard to get workers throughout the year so I can’t imagine how farmers dealt,” she said.

“We’re now seeing cyclones and strong winds hit our banana crops right now so who know what will happen there. Maybe banana prices will rise.

“Coming off drought has made things so much harder and you never know what’s next – whether it the environment or what’s happening in the world.”