Granite Belt Growers workforce search

Harvest time - starting with stonefuit and progressing through.

By Tania Phillips

 “Don’t Leave Queensland” – that’s the message of an advertising campaign aimed at attracting seasonal workers to the Granite Belt and it’s already paying dividends according to Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier.

“At last count I believe we had some 500 people express interest, following the promotion,” Angus told the Free Times this week.

“Exactly how many of them convert to a job placement I don’t know.

“The idea was always to drive foot-traffic to our recruiters or our direct employing farmers, to simply open up more opportunities to get the boots on the ground that we need.”

The campaign, which includes a strong social media presence, comes as growers begin harvest season, which will stretch from now right through March-April and amid concerns that COVID-19 and travel restrictions could leave the region without the workforce needed at this time of year.

Angus Ferrier said the Granite Belt Growers Association have “something like 50 grower members but there are probably more like a 100 or so entities across the Granite Belt” who will be employing a large number of seasonal workers.

“Our best estimates – and this is a bit of a hash of previous data and an estimate of where we sit still in drought – but our worker numbers build up towards the 3000 number by about Christmas and peak at about 4000 through February-March and then taper back down a bit,” he said.

“So the number we’re rolling with is 4000 jobs across the summer.

“You could get tied up with too much detail when trying to describe your worker requirements.

“But the real message we want to get out there during this promotion was simply, don’t leave Queensland – if you’re a seasonal worker, be that back-packer, itinerant or displaced Australian.

“There is no need to look beyond Queensland because there’s jobs here.” Mr Ferrier said the group was pleased with the responses to the campaign which is still in its infancy.

“We’re still a couple of works off our peak work-force requirement but two months ago – mid-August – we identified the need to, as much as possible, take the risk of too many job vacancies out of our region,” he explained.

“There are other promotional messages out there such as the Queensland Government’s ‘Pick Queensland’ initiative.

“But we probably wanted to zero-in more specifically on the Granite Belt for the benefit of our members and really explicitly put it out there, what jobs are available and when.

“Over the past couple of months from mid-August to mid-September we got the ball rolling on the campaign and obviously over the past month up to now that campaign has started to hit the air-waves. “To have had 500 expressions of interest in those first few weeks is really good.

“Keep in mind too, that we’re interested in anyone who is motivated and able to do physical work.

“That really extends to backpackers who are coming out of northern growing areas over the next couple of months, that extends to school age students – probably year 11 and 12 aged students, below that we need to be realistic that these are farms, not a holiday attraction.

“We’re definitely interested in university students who have started studying online or who would be looking for a summer job.

“To me a lot of people bang on about how hard the work is and how the money’s not that good, but I think that’s really an uneducated point of view.

“The money’s probably three or four bucks an hour more than you’re going to get working in a stinking hot kitchen doing the dishes.

“Hospitality is probably the other go-to industry for that age of people. “There’s more fresh air, more sunshine, more money, regular hours and there’s everything to be had working in horticulture if you don’t mind getting stuck in.

Angus Ferrier said he personally had started harvesting nectarines this week but across the Granite Belt they’ll be starting apple-picking, strawberry production and then the vegetable harvest would start in the next six weeks.

“A lot of other regions would tell you they’re a salad bowl but not many regions could lay claim to being a fruit and salad bowl like the Granite Belt,” he said.

“It can be everything from apples to eggplants – it is truly diverse.”

The past few years have been a trying and unpredictable time for an industry that is by nature unpredictable thanks to drought, fires and now COVID-19 however rain back in February and a helpful rain event in July has the growers on a slightly better path than in the previous year.

“It is clear to say we’re still in drought – I believe we are in a slightly better place than last year but it is a real concern to growers in the region,” Angus said.

He said a frost two weeks ago had also been a cause for concern, damaging vegetable seedlings and possibly damaging flowers on the region’s fruit trees.

“It’s often hard to quantify the damage after a frost but to give you a nice vague answer – the damage to tree fruit is still being assessed but whilst it’s not an unheard-of frost event it’s getting up there in terms of severity for late September,” he said.

“It was pretty nasty.”

For more information about working on the Granite Belt visit the Granite Belt Growers Association on Facebook or www.granitebeltgrowers.com.au

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