Concerns are emerging that worker shortages in the Griffith citrus industry could worsen as the year progresses causing serious impact on businesses.
It comes as farmers across Australia record financial losses due to not having the workforce for harvest.
President of Griffith Citrus Growers Vito Mancini says that while Griffith is managing to hold on for the Valencia harvest, growers might be headed for trouble come April/May if governments can't get ahead of the issue.
"At this time we've only seen missed opportunities but when we get into the Navel season which is our main export season then that's going to be dramatic," Mr Mancini said.
"From May to around September is when getting fruit off the tree and into the market is critical for us.
"We don't have the luxury then of supplying a week later if necessary. We will have contracts that we have to supply, so that's when we are going to start to see issues in the industry."
The workforce for growers in Griffith comes primarily from backpackers but with the last waves of them returning home, now is when we are going to see the real impact of the industry's reliance on their labour said Mr Mancini.
"The international borders closed in March and so we're seeing the last of those backpackers that were doing those 12 month stints now going back," he said.
"We haven't had that renewed workforce from the backpacker schemes and that's a huge hole in the industry."
In December, 2020 The National Farmers' Federation Horticulture Council launched the National Lost Crop Register to encourage producers around the country to anonymously record crops that have gone to waste due to lack of labour.
Fifty-five growers from across Australia have so far contributed numbers to the data base and Mr Mancini said that it would be helpful for Griffith growers to contribute to ensure government action.
"Without government understanding the losses it's really hard for them to step in and do anything so at the very least growers can put their anonymous data in just so Canberra can understand the impacts of COVID on our industries," he said.
However, the buck shouldn't stop there he said. Mr Mancini would like to see governments get ahead of the issue, jumping at a number of current opportunities to encourage local labour to the regions.
"There are a broad spectrum of opportunities out there that I hope government can look at," he said.
"I hope they can encourage school leavers to do a gap year in regional Australia and incentivise them to come and see the country and do some work.
"I'd like to see them open up the Pacific Island Scheme as well and possibly loosen the requirements for the next 12 to 24 months."
To contribute to the National Lost Crop Register click here.