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3 February, 2021

Keeping borders and production lines open

“We’re a small family run business so we don’t employ a lot of staff on a week-to-week basis and with the border closures in place we had no idea whether or not we were going to get the contractors we needed this time around.'

By Brendan Taylor AGFORCE GRAINS BOARD PRESIDENT

It goes without saying that 2020 was a difficult year – for everyone.

Drought, fire, and of course, COVID.

Those grain growers lucky enough to find their property under an isolated shower or a far too infrequent storm and plant a winter crop, then had to deal with the prospect of border closures and workforce shortages.

Our work with the State Government ensured firstly that Queensland’s borders remained open for our essential agriculture industry and its workers, then helped keep those arrangements in place throughout the year.

That meant agricultural workers and contractors were able to apply for specialist work permits or exemptions.

One grower who benefited from these arrangements was Phil Crocker.

Phil’s a cattle and grain grower from Muckadilla outside Roma.

He’s been on AgForce’s Grains Board with me for six years and his family are lifelong AgForce members.

Phil told me that when he heard the borders were closing, he was worried he wouldn’t have the resources he needed to fully harvest his winter crop.

“2019 was the driest year I can remember,” Phil said.

“But in 2020 we produced the best crop we’d had since 2016 so we were looking at our largest harvest for a while which made it all the more important to get it off in a timely manner after years of drought.

“Then everything happened with COVID and we realised we were short of headers and didn’t have the workers we were going to need to finish the harvest.

“We’re a small family run business so we don’t employ a lot of staff on a week-to-week basis and with the border closures in place we had no idea whether or not we were going to get the contractors we needed this time around.

“There was no plan we could see from government about a way forward – no guidelines to work to or anything like that.

“But AgForce found a way. They worked with government and helped us and many others we know of with the application process and ensured exemptions were available for people coming into the State through regional New South Wales.

“We ended up with the additional headers we needed, and with the border exemption in place for agriculture we got some contractors up from parts of regional Victoria where there hadn’t been any cases of COVID.

“Without AgForce’s intervention I really don’t know what we would have done – lost the harvest, or a big chunk of it, I suppose.”

One of the best things about Phil’s story is that he went on to sell most of his newly harvested wheat to Allied Mills via Carpendale, an intermediary they sometimes work with.

Allied Mills are based in Brisbane and use high quality (H2-grade) wheat in a variety of cereal products for Allied Pinnacle’s cake mixes, baked goods, muffins, as well as in flour for many of Brisbane’s bakers, and even fast-food chains.

There had been a shortage on H2 wheat when Phil was harvesting, so he was able to take advantage of that gap in the market.

Queensland grain, grown by Queenslanders, harvested by Victorian contractors and headers in the middle of the most devastating pandemic in our lifetime, and that then feeding families throughout Brisbane and the rest of the State.  

If that isn’t a good news story that shows how much we can achieve when we work together and put any geographical or ideological differences behind us – of positive action in the face of adversity – I don’t know what it is.

 


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