Horticulture

Fruit exports impacted by coronavirus restrictions

By Rodney Woods

An Ardmona fruit packing business is taking any chance it can get to export fruit overseas, as the coronavirus pandemic impacts horticulture in several ways.

Ardmona Packhouse owners David and Trish Vigliaturo said the biggest impact for them to date was the limited opportunities to get their fruit on a plane.

“So far we haven’t been impacted in a way that we haven’t stopped what we are doing or we haven't reduced staff,” Mr Vigliaturo said.

“It's more that the market has been changing daily — there are no planes in the sky.

“Any air space that we do find we say yes to because we don’t know when the next time we will be able to export.

“Nobody knows what the country we are exporting to is going to be like in 20 to 30 days time.

“It's a big risk sending that volume and not knowing (what's going to happen at the other end).

“We are selling a lot more in the domestic market and so far it's held up because of good demand and shortages from the panic buying.

“It will be interesting to see how it holds up considering we are not exporting as much.”

The business normally sends fruit to Asia's four major markets — China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore — and would normally send four tonnes of plums every second day at this time year.

“But it's only hit and miss at the moment,” Mr Vigliaturo said.

With the Federal Government forcing people arriving from overseas to self-isolate for 14 days, a shortage of fruit pickers could become an issue.

MADEC Mildura's Gavin Krake said there were no major labour shortages now, "but we know the industry is heavily reliant on international workers".

“The travel ban will have an effect with less backpackers coming in, so three to six months down the track there will be a shortage,” he said.

“We are hoping the government will be flexible with visas to offset the loss of work coming in.”

APAL chief executive officer Phil Turnbull agreed there was no picker shortage as yet, and also hoped measures to ensure a temporary increase in the flexibility of visa and worker program requirements would come to fruition.

Kialla East grower Gary Godwill said pickers weren't an issue for him as he was just finishing his Granny Smith harvest with the three pickers he had left on his property.

Mr Godwill said he was urging the pickers to stay on the property as much as possible so they did not risk getting the virus.