NOT SO SWEET: Strawberry growers worry for looming season
STRAWBERRY growers worry it will be impossible to pack all of their fruit this season due to social distancing, even with up to 30 per cent less plants.
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to take a huge toll on producers, with the loss of wholesale trade due to restaurant, bar and cafe closures and challenges with hiring international workers for fruit picking and packing.
Coochin Creek Fruit Growers Co-Op chairman, cattle and strawberry farmer Robert Barry, said farmers had reduced strawberry plants this season, anticipating low sales of the "non essential" fruit.
He said with shoppers opting for fruit and vegetables that keep for longer and go further, growers of other fruits were worried what the looming season would look like.
"A lot of them (strawberry farmers) have cut back on the number of plants … they've certainly cut back for the fear of the unknown," Mr Barry said.
Strawberry farmer Ray Kim, who leases a strawberry farm at Mr Barry's Beerwah property, has cut his production by 30 per cent this year.
But he worries with social distancing rules of two metres, he won't be able to pack the fruit he does produce.
The Morayfield resident and Beerwah grower of seven years said usually there would be up to 38 people in the packing shed, but with social distancing they could only have about 10.
"We produced 20 to 30 pallets of fruit a day last year, and even cutting back to about 12 to 15 pallets, we still may not be able to pack all of them with 10 to 15 people," he said.
Mr Kim said he was still concerned if he would be able to fill 110 positions during peak season, despite the Federal Government's Seasonal Worker Programme announced on Saturday.
The new scheme allows backpackers to extend their visas for up to one year if they are working in a critical industry such as agriculture.
It also means the workers will be exempt from a rule that meant they could not stay with the same employer for more than six months.
Some will also be eligible to have early access to their super.
"Personally, I'm thinking if I'm not successful this year and if I do lose everything, there's no chance I'll be able to grow next year," Mr Kim said.
Mr Barry said other fruit and vegetable farmers involved in the co-op had experienced higher demand for home deliveries.
He said some had created new home delivery products, in a bid to lessen the blow losing up to 50 per cent of their business, due to restaurant, bar and cafe closures.
Looking to a silver lining, Mr Barry was heartened by seeing many residents take more interest in being self-sufficient by growing their own herbs and vegetables.
"I've even found with my grandkids here they have so much more interest in growing vegetables … they're making their own little veggie patch and they're loving it," he said.