Queensland strawberry industry offers $100k cash prize in bid to entice harvest workers

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The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association (QSGA) is putting $100,000 on the table in a bid to entice workers to get involved in the winter harvest.Key points:Queensland strawberry farmers are eyeing off a 7,000 worker shortfall ahead of the winter harvestThe industry is offering a cash prize to lure workers inThe chances of winning are increased…

Queensland strawberry industry offers $100k cash prize in bid to entice harvest workers
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The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association (QSGA) is putting $100,000 on the table in a bid to entice workers to get involved in the winter harvest.

Key points:

  • Queensland strawberry farmers are eyeing off a 7,000 worker shortfall ahead of the winter harvest
  • The industry is offering a cash prize to lure workers in
  • The chances of winning are increased the longer workers stay

Australian farmers have reported massive losses due a shortage of seasonal workers to pick their crops. 

Queensland’s strawberry industry says farmers are reducing the number of plants they are growing or skipping the season entirely amid fears the labour will not be available.

In an effort to try and turn things around, the QSGA has announced a plan to turn the harvest season into a competition by putting cash prizes and holidays up for grabs.

“What we’re asking people to do is work hard and play hard,” president Adrian Schultz said.

“We’re encouraging anybody who’s interested to have a go at picking strawberries, come to Queensland during winter and enjoy our season.

More than a dozen Pacific Islander workers bending over planting strawberry runners in rows of plastic-lined soil.

Workers are busy planting runners on strawberry farms across Queensland.(

ABC Rural: Melanie Groves

)

Purple patch

Workers will be able to earn “points” that will count as entries into a draw.

“Everyone goes into the draw, it’s selected by a computer,” Mr Schultz said.

“Ten people are chosen and each of those 10 people will have the chance to play for $100,000.

“We’ll have a little strawberry patch — there will be 100 envelopes in that strawberry patch.

“One of those envelopes will have $100,000 in it and every other envelope will have $1,000 in it.

Two young backpackers hard at work in the field picking strawberries and placing them into large green containers. 

Ten pickers will be chosen to have the chance to play for $100,000.(

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

)

7,000 workers needed

The industry has enlisted the help of a third party to take care of the logistics and is using an insured promotion and its advertising budget to fund the prize.

It is also planning monthly prizes, including weekend or week-long holidays to local tourist destinations that can be taken once the season is over.

Mr Shultz said the industry will needed about 7,000 workers to pick Queensland’s strawberries over winter.

“We’re looking at anyone who’s willing to give it a go,” he said.

A worker bends over picking strawberries in the rain.

Queensland Strawberry Growers Association says it’s working to ensure the program can’t be exploited.(

ABC Rural: Tyne Logan

)

Safety first

While the prize may prove a strong incentive, the horticulture industry has long struggled with poor worker conditions and underpayment.

Mr Schultz said a lot of effort had been put into ensuring the program would not be exploited.

“We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to profile all the farms,” he said.

People will have the chance to check out the farms before registering to work and if a trial period does not work for the labourer or the farmer ther will be the option to try another property.

“Part of what we’ve done is we’ve put together a suite of information about what to do if you’re not comfortable with how you’re being treated on that farm, where to go and who to get in touch with,” Ms Schultz said.

A middle aged man in a cap and farm work clothes squats between rows of freshly planted strawberry runners

Brendan Hoyle says farmers are planting less this year.(

ABC Rural: Melanie Groves

)

Slimmer pickings

Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay strawberry farmers are in the process of planting runners for the winter season.

Beerburrum grower Brendan Hoyle said he was planting about 60 per cent of his normal crop.

“It’s been a difficult one,” he said. 

Mr Hoyle said the year had been unusual in many ways.

“We’ve found our picking and packing costs have gone up,” he said. 

But collaboration had been been one unexpected benefit.

Mr Hoyle said farmers had been sharing labour.

“We can help each other out,” he said.

“Generally we’re always tending to look after ourselves, but when you get faced with circumstances like this … we’re trying to help each other out.

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