15 April, 2021
Licence to pick money
GETTING a job on a strawberry farm, such as Shaylee Strawberries in Atherton, could win you $100,000, as part of a competition to solve severe labour shortages in the agriculture industry.
The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association (QSGA) is offering a total prize pool of $1 million, which will see ten lucky workers walk away with huge bonuses this season in a bid to motivate Australians to work on farms.
After registering online and being employed by a strawberry farm, workers will gain entries in the draw for every full week they work from June and October, and bonus entries if they spend eight or more weeks on the same farm.
According to the QSGA, working holiday makers normally pick up to 80 per cent of strawberries in Queensland, but COVID-19 travel restrictions have created a major shortage of peak demand workers.
Shaylee Strawberries owners Alice and Joe Barletta said they previously relied mainly on backpackers, but had already had several locals contacting them about work since the competition opened on April 8.
The Barlettas will start planting soon and will require up to 12 pickers and six packers to plant around 50,000 strawberry plants and harvest around 50,000 kilograms of strawberries in their three paddocks from June to October.
This is half the amount they planted last year, and the QSGA warns of strawberry shortages and high prices as farms scale back operations due to the labour shortage.
Alice and Joe’s two daughters and one son all work on the farm and Alice said it was their dream life.
“It’s fun. You’re working outside and most of the time the weather is beautiful,” she said.
“We have little carts to sit in while picking so you’re not standing all day, and the carts have canvas covers so you’re in the shade.
“Workers have told us they really enjoy working here because it is a family business and we treat them like family.”
Leesa Poggioli, 50, is a born and bred Atherton local and has been working at Shaylee for a year, picking, packing, and helping to make ice cream and jam, and said she absolutely loved it.
“I love being outdoors and you have the satisfaction of seeing the plants grow from one week to the next. Joe and Alice have taught me so much,” she said.
“You’re allowed to listen to a podcast or music and the day goes by really quickly. You’re with other people you can talk to, and sometimes even get a little competitive.
“It makes me upset when I hear people say there’s no jobs around, when I know that I’m 50 and I can go out and get a job.”
Avocados Australia chairman Jim Kochi, who farms avocados in Atherton, expressed concerns that the competition may not attract new workers to agriculture but instead divert existing farm workers onto strawberry farms at the expense of other fruits and vegetables.
“You’re not going to get more workers unless you can stop Australians sitting on the couch watching Netflix and eating Cheezels all day,” he said.
“The person that’s going to win that lottery is going to be a backpacker, who may have been in New South Wales picking oranges, who’s been lured to Queensland to have a chance at the lottery.”
But QSGA President Adrian Schultz said just one week after its launch, the promotion had already had 350 potential workers register and another 200 contact farms directly to apply for work.
“Of those numbers, the overwhelming majority have been locally-based individuals who have been encouraged to come and give farm work a go this winter,” he said.
“Queensland Strawberries has such an extreme peak labour demand requirement that we have had no choice but to take this radical, out-of-the box step to attract a workforce to our farms.
“We believe that this program will help to expand the pool of Aussies who are actively interested in a career in horticulture, and that can only be a good thing for all crops, not just strawberries.”
To register, visit www.qldstrawberries.com.au