New grants for agriculture businesses to combat coronavirus

By Country News

Victoria's food production businesses will be supported in making their workplaces safe and keeping supply chains uninterrupted with new business-adaptation grants.

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes launched the program last week, as part of the $50 million Working for Victoria Agriculture Workforce Plan, which aims to ensure people remain in employment throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Geoffrey Thompson Holdings managing director Garry Parker said there had been significant costs to maintaining social distancing.

“We've had to maintain social distancing with transporting some of our seasonal worker program staff, so we've had to buy an extra bus to be able to maintain distancing while they're transported from worksite to worksite,” Mr Parker said.

Mr Parker said the effects of the coronavirus pandemic would continue, and that exporting produce was the key to future success.

“The Australian industry produces more fruit than we can consume domestically, the industry has been in a growth phase over the past five to 10 years, so it's really important that free trade agreements are set in place,” he said.

Ms Symes said the grants were made to ensure food-production businesses could adapt to conditions placed on them because of the pandemic.

“Whether that’s about making changes to the workplace so social distancing can be incorporated, additional transport opportunities, additional washroom facilities or business changes to supply chains — to make sure everyone’s health and safety is maintained and our supply chains are supported,” Ms Symes said.

The grants will also help to support migrant workers and ensure shared accommodation and transport facilities meet social distancing requirements.

“Businesses small and large can apply, as long as they have a turnover of more than $75 000,” Ms Symes said.

Under the program, individual grants between $10 000 and $300 000 will support eligible businesses to meet the costs of adapting their workplaces.

Each grant will cover up to 50 per cent of the costs of individual adaptation projects, with the remainder to be covered by the business.

Agriculture Victoria and the Department of Health have been meeting for the past 10 weeks to address concerns in the agriculture industry.

“Making the investment to ensure your business can operate through a pandemic is something really important to the agriculture sector,” Ms Symes said.

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