NO GOOD: Labour Hire companies are warning the coronavirus could have devastating impacts on the agricultural industry. Photo: Gary Worrall
NO GOOD: Labour Hire companies are warning the coronavirus could have devastating impacts on the agricultural industry. Photo: Gary Worrall

Coronavirus another kick in the guts for struggling farmers

FOLLOWING one of the toughest summers on record, farmers are now facing a different threat - Coronavirus.

Mass travel bans from overseas and the potential for major outbreaks have both farmers and labour hire providers worried about the upcoming harvest season.

Gatton based Kings Labour Hire owner Kingsley Harrison said the pandemic was weighing heavily on everyone's minds.

"I just don't want to think about it at the moment," Mr Harrison said.

He said while the virus was yet to impact the industry heavily, it was simply a matter of time.

"We've still got plenty of people coming back now as they normally would," he said.

"But it looks like it probably is going to (impact us) and how we deal with that I don't really know."

Lockyer Valley Growers president Michael Sippel said growers with operations already in full swing were likely to be fine, as their workers would likely stay - it was those yet to kick into production who will be hardest hit.

"It's the ones who actually aren't doing much in the way of production right now - they'll be starting packing and cutting in three months time - they're concerned there's going to be a big competition among the farmers for the available workers," Mr Sippel said.

He said the industry was currently in talks to determine solutions, but there weren't any simple answers.

He also warned it was "quite possible" the situation could end in crops being left unharvested.

"I'm worried there just won't be anywhere near enough people and if there's not enough people you can't do the (same level of) productivity," he said.

"If you got a field of lettuce to harvest, you've only got a very small crew of workers and you can't get access to more well, what do you do - you leave it there," he said.

"Unless you can get locals to cut it and that's hasn't been too forthcoming."

It wasn't just concerns over travel bans drying up the source of backpacker labour, with the chance of infections spreading through workers' accommodation also weighing on Mr Harrison's mind.

"That could just take a big slice out of people that are available," he said.

"Because most of these kids live in pretty, close quarters - whether it be in hostels or share houses or caravan parks … if things start getting locked down, that'll be when the issue starts."

With the whole nation on red alert, Mr Harrison wasn't taking any chances.

"We're taking precautions as much as we can … disinfecting stuff and whatever - but of course it's scary," he said.

He warned it was just another kick in the guts for farmers, after recent rain seemed to be lifting spirits following a disastrous summer.

"They've scratched through summer … and then just as you think you're going to get going again this hits," he said.