Lockdowns hamper bumper harvest

Harvest woes: NSW Farmers says for the second year in a row farmers are wondering how to harvest crops with limited access to workers and COVID testing facilities that have limited hours of operation. Photo by Cath Grey

Continuing COVID-19 border restrictions are making life difficult for farmers and harvest workers at the start of a bumper season, says NSW Farmers.

NSW Farmers Grains Committee chair Justin Everitt said for the second year in a row, farmers were scratching their heads over how to harvest paddocks full of crops, with limited access to workers and COVID testing facilities that had limited hours of operation.

He said there needed to be a coordinated effort from governments to make sure the season wasn’t wasted.

“We understand there’s a lot of fear and hesitancy around COVID, but this is the second year now that we’ve had fields chock-full of crops and state borders getting in the way of harvest,” Mr Everitt said.

“We’re not talking about bringing all of Sydney to country Victoria or outback Queensland; this is a relatively small number of regional workers who need to go back and forth across the border to get these crops in on time.

“It’s time the politicians put their differences aside and put in place some common-sense arrangements or we’ll see a man-made disaster unfold across the industry.”

Growers in the north of the state have been reporting COVID testing sites either aren’t located in the right spots or aren’t open at appropriate times, and the need to line up for testing every few days is putting people off coming across the border for work.

“NSW Farmers has been getting calls about harvest workers having to deal with inconsistent rules at the borders,” Mr Everitt said.

“What’s more, harvest is a 24/7 process, but some of these testing centres are only open from 9am to 3pm.

“The trucks will be bumper to bumper this harvest, and any delays will be very costly to everyone involved.”