Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier said there will still be high quality produce available from the Granite Belt this year.
Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier said there will still be high quality produce available from the Granite Belt this year. contributed

Granite Belt to lose 900 jobs by end of summer

DROUGHT, fire and chronic water shortages will combine to rob the Granite Belt horticulture sector of the equivalent of 900 full-time jobs by the end of summer.

This is according to a survey complied by the Granite Belt Growers Association.

Poor seasonal conditions will lead to less fruit and vegetables in the paddock, resulting in fewer workers needed to pick and process produce.

The result will be about a $40 million reduction in wages paid to full-time, seasonal or backpacker labourers.

Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier commissioned the survey and said some farms will be hit harder than others.

"We have no breakdown between permanent Australian workers and seasonal workers, be they Pacific Islanders or backpackers," he said.

"Although the numbers are fairly staggering we found there was a high variability between farms.

"Some have a bit of water left and others have gone outside the area to lease land and keep producing"

The $40 million figure represents about a 42 per cent reduction in wages paid within the Granite Belt horticulture sector. 

"We are keen to emphasise that whilst the numbers are significant we are no where near a write-off," Mr Ferrier said.

With fewer farms planting there will be less demand for farm supplies, like seed stock, fertiliser and irrigation equipment.

The GBGA survey found the region's horticulture agribusinesses are expected to be short about $60 million in sales.

"That is just horticulture agribusiness and does not take into account the downturn in businesses that support the livestock sector," Mr Ferrier said.

"It is a big hit for a small town like Stanthorpe. It is almost 100 million lost."

Mr Ferrier is concerned out-of-work skilled labourers are leaving the district for jobs elsewhere. He said a number of farms have already laid off workers.

Luckily, some farms stepped up to prevent a widespread exodus.

They include Sweet Strawberry Runners, a business that would, in good season, require temporary workers for its harvest. Its managers offered to take on surplus full-time workers from nearby farms when picking starts in late summer.

"It is almost like a secondment to keep those skilled workers in the district," Mr Ferrier said.

Mr Ferrier said it was important for the community to do whatever it can to prevent skilled workers from moving away.

"The potential loss of skilled workers and their families is considered the longest lasting effect of the drought," he said.

"Anyone can ring up tomorrow and buy seeds but you cannot just click your finger and restart a business if you have lost all your workers.

"We are looking at a multi-year recovery because it is time consuming and expensive to re-skill workers."

Rain is the only sure-fire way to prevent job losses but the window for a good summer season is closing.

Instead, Mr Ferrier called on wholesalers and large retailers to support the Granite Belt.

"The whole district is not a wipe out," he said.

"There will still be high-quality produce coming out of the Granite Belt, just less of it."