Looking for work? About 2000 pickers and packers will be needed this strawberry season across the Moreton Bay Region, Beerwah and the Glasshouse Mountains.
That’s the number estimated by State Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner, and with our borders closed it’s an opportunity for locals to pick up some work.
Moreton Bay Regional Council Mayor Peter Flannery says the region is proudly one of the biggest players in the national strawberry market, which represents a massive local employment opportunity.
“Believe it or not, strawberries have long been the bounty of Moreton Bay Region’s local economy and farmers are looking for workers now through to October,” Mayor Flannery explains.
“Queensland supplies roughly 40% of Australia’s strawberries and the bulk of the winter crop comes from right here in the Caboolture area, so there’s work there for anyone ready to roll up their sleeves.
“Local farmers are looking to fill a whole range of jobs from now until October, when the crops have all been picked. But even more important than applying for work on a strawberry farm, is to get out and buy local strawberries.
“It’s critical for locals to support our farmers through these tough times, because they’d already been suffering the impacts of drought long before coronavirus hit. While we’re all spending more time at home, abiding by social distancing restrictions, it’s the perfect time to get in the kitchen to try cooking some strawberry dishes or even making jam with the kids.”
People interested in picking and packing jobs should search via the Harvest Trail website. Job seekers are NOT to visit farms looking for work, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Visit https://www.qldstrawberries.com.au/ and follow the link to Harvest Trail https://jobsearch.gov.au/harvest to search for jobs. Many growers will start advertising in the coming weeks, so be patient. If you’re still not able to see any jobs listed then, contact farms via email or social media.
Laura Wells from Taste N See is also Vice-President of Queensland Strawberries and has a handle on how the season is shaping up, not just for her farm, but others across the region.
A delay in strawberry runners from Stanthorpe, due to the drought, has pushed planting back by two to three weeks for many, but picking and packing will be at full-throttle in July.
Laura says local farms will most likely start advertising for people in the next few weeks.
She has a backbone of “local gold” employees who help on her farm at the start of the season as things kick-off. There’s about 100 of them, which doubles to around 200 when the season ramps up.
“We do like to give locals priority. We like to find the people that are happy to do seasonal work and stick it out,” Laura says. “We love the thought of more local people working for us.”
“It’s all hours and any days. Strawberry season is a bit hard and fast – big hours and long days. You never know when you’re going to work. It’s challenging but rewarding for the period of time they’re here.
“They need to be fit and capable and happy to be working outside in all weather. We become their family for a while. You have to do the work while it’s here.”
About 80 people are already picking and packing at Pinata Farms and Gavin Scurr expects this number to surge to about 300 by late July.
He says they would normally have 400 people at the season’s peak but with fewer plants in the ground, due to a shortage of runners, there won’t be as many strawberries to pick.
“We have some fruit now, but won’t have as much in the next couple of months as we normally have. We should be back to normal by July,” he explains.
Gavin says they would welcome anyone looking for work, including locals.
“It will be interesting to see what happens when lockdowns ease. We’re mildly concerned if there will be enough people to harvest the crop. Once the community goes back to normal, time will tell how many people have got a job,” he says.
Backpackers aren’t allowed back in the country and those who could leave, at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, went home.
“The ones that are here are all we’ve got. All strawberry growers will be looking for people to work,” he says.
“It’s not a hard job, but it’s constant work. Each individual strawberry needs to be harvested by hand and packed by hand. It’s labour-intensive. It’s a pretty nice environment, it’s not too hot, the weather’s glorious (this time of year). It’s a nice part of the world, but if you’re a local, you already know that.”
He says the way they operate has changed already. Social distancing is easy in the field because rows are 1.8m apart. It’s trickier in the packing shed because benches are only 1.2m apart, not the 1.5m required under COVID-19 regulations.
Gavin says they are using every second bench the moment but will have to introduce other measures when the season cranks up. These might include Perspex shrouds on each bench or full-face helmet-style masks.
He’s urging consumers to buy Australian produce and to support Australian growers and the people who work for them. “We grow a lot of food – three times what Australia consumes. Buy Australian and help the Australian economy,” Gavin says.
And, he reckons the strawberries are tasting pretty darn good this season.
“You can’t go on holidays, but you can have a punnet of strawberries. They’re a delicious treat and good value,” he says.
Allison and Stuart McGruddy save imperfect strawberries, that are packed with flavour, from landfill by freezing them or turning them into powders.
At their Caboolture Industrial Estate base, they expect to need up to 20 staff to help them process strawberries as the season ramps up.
They’ve already recruited about 10, to kick things off, and expect to start the search for more in the coming weeks.
Allison says they usually have a combination of backpackers and locals, but they’re definitely keen for locals to fill as many of those jobs as possible.
“We’re not the career move but we can be a stop-gap for anyone, even for their own mental health – to be back out there doing something after being out of a job,” she says.
“We think we’re a fun bunch. You’re dealing with fresh berries and the aroma in the facility is amazing.”
Processing will ramp up in mid-June, depending on the quality and quantity of fruit available, with full production in September, finishing by early October.
“The demand for Aussie-grown produce is higher than ever,” she says.
And they’re expecting retail production and demand from manufacturers for their product to be high.
“We’re moving to firm up these orders, so we understand what’s ahead of us,” Allison says.
Email resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re happy to receive applications now.
Visit the website for information about My Berries.
Mandy Schultz says their season is determined by how well planting went and while other growers were held up by a shortage of runners from Stanthorpe as a result of the drought, theirs arrived on time.
“As of today, it’s looking fabulous. We’ve had awesome weather,” she says. “COVID arrived when we were planting. We’ve got strawberries already. We’re in a positive place.”
They’re just waiting to see what demand there is from the markets in the coming weeks and months.
“People underestimate how much cruise ships buy from markets. Not having them there can impact a lot of businesses,” Mandy explains.
She expects they’ll need a team of 24 staff to pick and pack strawberries and herbs, but at this stage, that team is already locked in.
Nine staff have already been selected from local agencies working with refugees and the Government’s seasonal workers program. The rest are backpackers who have worked on the farm before.
Mandy says they don’t need any more staff at this stage, but if it’s a cracker of a season and they need more, they’ll advertise via their Facebook page.