Harvest chaos looms unless border restrictions change

Harvest chaos looms unless border restrictions change

Grains
Contract harvesters are worried that COVID-19 restrictions will stop them moving between states at harvest.

Contract harvesters are worried that COVID-19 restrictions will stop them moving between states at harvest.

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Australia's winter crop harvest will be chaotic unless COVID-19 restrictions are eased to allow contract harvesters to move between states.

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GRAIN growing and contract harvesting peak bodies are warning current COVID-19 inspired restrictions on border movements would spell chaos if they are still in place come harvest.

If the hard border closure between NSW and Victoria remains in place into harvest contract harvesters' plans will be thrown into disarray.

Even at present the restrictions are having an impact.

President of the Australian Custom Harvesters Association Rod Gribble said contractors were looking to start moving their equipment north to Queensland in preparation for the Central Queensland winter crop harvest, which will start in just six weeks.

"If you've got a few machines and just one person you need to get moving early, but at present that is not possible for all of our members," Mr Gribble said.

Mr Gribble, a contractor based at Griffith, NSW, said his organisation was working with groups such as Grain Producers Australia and the various state farmer federations to help lobby government for a resolution.

"When there were provisions in place for essential services things would've been a bit tricky in terms of paperwork but we probably would've managed but as it stands now, it will not be possible for free movement of harvesting equipment and that has an obvious impact on the harvest.

"We acknowledge the focus on stopping the spread of the virus but equally the harvest will not stand still for anyone and if there is a good season contractors will be essential to getting all the grain off in a timely manner."

Mr Gribble estimated that around 50 per cent of harvest workers came from outside the state they worked in.

"At a rough guess around 25pc are from interstate and another 25pc are from overseas so you can see what does for the workforce if they are not allowed in."

Andrew Weidemann, GPA chairman, agreed it was a serious problem.

"There is still quite a bit of time until harvest, but we are really pushing to get something resolved."

Mr Gribble said he hoped some sort of exemption could be worked out.

"We're looking at something like the exemptions for those in the freight industry, there is probably no more essential service than food production so we feel we have a good case."

He said 2020 shaped as one of the worst seasons for the travel bans to be in place.

"Over the last couple of years there has been very little need for contractors in northern NSW and Queensland so you probably would've got away with it to an extent but this year with the thumpers predicted through much of NSW the industry is planning for significant demand.

"That could get even more problematic if the long term forecasts for a wetter than average harvest period come to pass and everyone is looking to get their crop off quickly."

While Mr Gribble acknowledged there was no such thing as zero risk of spreading COVID-19, he said harvest workers were at the very bottom of the risk scale.

"They are working long hours in isolated regions and not coming into contact with hardly anyone at all so I feel it is something that could be managed appropriately."

The story Harvest chaos looms unless border restrictions change first appeared on Farm Online.

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