The price of fruit and veggies could triple by Christmas as farmers are forced to destroy their crops because they can’t get enough staff to help with the harvest.

Local WA grower Luciano Monte told Nine News Perth he’s struggling to hire workers, which has resulted in up to 70% of his crops being left to rot.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government was working on incentives to lure young people to regional Australia, but Mr Monte said it didn’t matter how much workers were paid.

“Doesn’t matter what you pay them, put any figure, $35 an hour, they won’t come out,” he said.

“They come for a day and you never see them again, they come for an hour then go home.”

There were 150,000 backpackers in Australia at the start of the year, but the figure is now closer to 70,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There is a push for school leavers and university students to take a gap year at home where the government provide HECS/HELP loan concessions on top of wages from agricultural work.

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A parliamentary committee also wants the government to allow dole recipients to keep getting JobSeeker while covering these roles – something that WA Premier Mark McGowan supports.

“What we’re saying to the Commonwealth is, ya know, let people get their JobSeeker, let them get their aged pension and earn a bit of cash on the top without losing their welfare, just this one season,” he said.

Thing is, if the government doesn’t work something out soon, Paul Miles from the City of Wanneroo warned we could be paying top dollar for basic fruit and veg.

“By Christmas, you could end up paying $10 for a lettuce.”

The temporarily boosted JobSeeker will be cut to $815 a fortnight from September 25.

Mr Littleproud said the change would coincide with people being able to earn $1257 in a two-week period without losing access to the benefit.

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The horticulture industry estimates that working holiday-makers are worth $13 billion to Australia’s economy.

 

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