Supermarket prices could rise as Australian farmers warn they will not plant crops for a year due to labour shortages.
Coronavirus travel restrictions have impacted fruit and vegetable growers, leaving a labour shortage due to a drop in overseas workers.
Farm labourers and fruit pickers usually made up from overseas backpackers have declined this year with an estimated 40,000 to be in Australia compared to last year’s figure of 140,000.
Workers from Pacific islands had issues entering Down Under since its international border closed in March 2020.
Queensland farmers were affected by the worker shortage with some considering not planting crops in 2021.
Produce growers believe the move will lead to supermarkets increasing their prices and customers paying up to $50 per kilo for tomatoes instead of the current average price of $5 a kilo.
Bowen in Queensland’s Whitsundays region is said to be the one of the worst affected towns with 3500 backpackers needed every year to harvest the area’s wide variety of produce including tomatoes, rockmelon and capsicum.
The labour shortage has left the town’s chamber of commerce with plans to quarantine workers from overseas.
Chamber president Bruce Hedditch told the Courier Mail shoppers could soon be paying extortionate prices unless the labour shortage is addressed – warning of tomatoes costing “between $30 and $50 a kilo”.
“Farmers are even contemplating not even planting crops in 2021,” Mr Hedditch said.
“We know Victoria has received a large number of Pacific Islanders to work on their farms and this has been achieved through an agreement with the Tasmanian Government, where workers undertook 14-day quarantine periods in that state.
“We can’t get answers here. It’s insane.”
According to a recent report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, shoppers should expect to pay up to 30 per cent more for produce as farmers struggle to find workers amid the pandemic.
Prices of summer produce such as mangoes, peaches and vegetables are expected to increase by between 7 and 29 per cent.