SMALLER scale vegetable producers will be better positioned to handle the lack of labour in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).
The Agricultural Commodities Report for the March quarter 2021, released this week in time for the ABARES Outlook 2021 conference, took a strong focus on how the COVID-19 travel restrictions have, and will continue to, affect horticulture production.
It made the point that fruit production would suffer worse than vegetable production.
"Production of fruit is forecast to fall by around 17 per cent and production of vegetables by around 2pc," the report said.
"Many vegetable producers are smaller scale and less acutely affected by the reduced supply of overseas labour because they are better able to mobilise family labour, and are often located in peri-urban areas that are more attractive to local workers."
"Typically fruit and table grape producers are most reliant on overseas workers for picking and packing fruit."
"Packing sheds are becoming increasingly automated but there is no viable alternative to manual harvesting of most fruit."
The report also noted that the lack of labour has coincided with generally good growing conditions for many crops.
The assumed fall in overseas labour supply is forecast to reduce production of some horticultural products in 2020-21, despite favourable seasonal conditions.
A post-COVID outlook
ABARES has assumed the overseas labour supply will be around 50pc of pre-COVID-19 levels in 2020-21.
"The rise in the number of seasonal workers is likely to be limited until after the peak harvest period (February, March and April) in 2020-21," the report said.
"No additional backpackers are expected. ABARES forecasts assume a staged return to pre-COVID-19 levels of overseas labour supply in 2021-22 and 2022-23."
Further ahead, the supply of overseas labour is expected to be about 70pc of pre-COVID-19 levels in 2021-22.