Staff shortages rattle the agricultural domain

By Hari Yellina
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Pic supplied

Consumers should be aware that there is no shortage of fresh food in Australia. However, there is a labour shortage across the production chain. Catherine Velisha, managing director of Velisha Farms, said that half of the employees at the company’s packaging factory were quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 or coming in close contact with someone who had. She claimed that this was putting a lot of burden on the remaining workers, as well as the folks who were isolated. Velisha Farms produces and supplies cauliflower, broccoli, celery, iceberg lettuce, zucchini, kale, spring onions, and cucumbers in Werribee South, Victoria.

The company provides services to supermarkets and has a presence in Melbourne’s Epping area. Growers had complete crews isolated in certain circumstances, according to Ms Velisha. “We have growers who haven’t been able to harvest at all,” she explained, “so there’s a supply constraint on some lines like spring onions.” Velisha Farms has also had issues with vehicles not arriving on time and merchandise arriving days later. Michael Coote, Ausveg’s chief executive officer, stated that the business requires every available healthy worker to maintain a constant supply of fresh veggies to Australian consumers. It is undeniable that perishable products have a short shelf life and are the most vulnerable to supply chain interruptions due to the longer time it takes for products to reach customers. In Far North Queensland, Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker said the mango and vegetable harvest has finished.

The mango and vegetable harvest has ended in Far North Queensland. Northern growers were spared the difficulties of staffing in isolation, but they had trouble finding enough labour due to interstate and international border constraints. Another issue facing the sector, according to Mr Walker, is growing on-farm costs for the 2022 season. Prices were flying through the roof, and were also expected to rise by at least 30%. Ms Velisha, like other businesses and the general people, would like to have a stock of fast antigen tests on hand, but she has been unable to do so. She described it as a particularly stressful moment for business owners, who were also concerned about issues such as safe working hours and employee weariness.

How long do you think it’s acceptable to work with half of your employees, and how long do you think it’s acceptable to put people under such stress?” Ms Velisha expressed herself. “It’s fine if it’s only for a short period, but what do you do if it’s not? Farmers and business people are both doers, but when there is nothing to de done, despondency sets in and you feel out of control.


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