COVID leads to fruitful work

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With COVID disrupting their long-term careers, Craig and Fiona Dennes decided to answer the call for more fruit pickers – turning work into an opportunity to explore Australia.

Last year the couple, originally from Taree, found themselves without employment after long careers in the telecommunications and retail industries.

“Our lives were flowing along as usual with everyday 9-5 jobs,” Fiona said.

“Craig worked at Telstra for more than 36 years as a technical expert, and I was with fashion retail outlet Sussan as second in-charge and occasional store manager for 14 years.

“From March 2020, things changed rapidly for us. Craig was retrenched from his position at Telstra. At the end of July, and as a direct result of COVID, I was offered less hours or retrenchment from my position at Sussan. So, on the 1st of September 2020, I accepted retrenchment. It was then we both came to the realisation neither of us had a job!”

Fiona said after seeing a news story about the shortage of fruit pickers, they decided it would be a great opportunity to get out and travel and be paid.

“Having never participated in this type of work and to test the waters, we enquired with local avocado farmers around our area but with no luck. We then applied online with Costa Berries as there was need for pickers in the Coffs Harbour area, at Corindi.

“Within a couple of weeks, we’d bought our very first caravan and by October long weekend 2020 we left our home in Taree. We left our younger son in charge of the house and we hit the road and headed for the Costa farm at Corindi.”

After working for two months in Corindi, including as pickers, driving trucks and as assistant supervisors, the couple moved to the Costa Berry farm at Tumbarumba arriving in mid December 2020.

Craig’s previous work involved travelling across the country, training and supporting Telstra’s internal construction workforce across all regions.

Fiona said in her previous role, she managed inventories, staff and customers.

“Here at Costa, I manage a small crew, inventories and diverse picking crews from various nationalities. The roles have similarities, although my dress for work uniform differs significantly. I now have a pair of steel cap boots and dress for farm work, not retail fashion.

“At Tumbarumba, I supervised my own crew, while Craig again drove the trucks. We both gained a lot of invaluable experience at Tumbarumba, formed new friendships with amazing people and visited beautiful locations across the Snowy Mountains region.”

After finishing the Tumbarumba season, the couple headed home to Taree for an eight-week break before heading to Far North Queensland for the Costa berry harvest on the Atherton Tablelands.

“The opportunity to work and live in FNQ is one we will never regret embracing. There are so many things to see and places to visit including The Daintree, Port Douglas, Trinity Beach and numerous visits to Cairns.”

“We have met so many wonderful people on our journey. Friends, new and old are so envious of our lifestyle. The flexible work arrangements provide many opportunities to explore regions close to the harvest locations we have been too.”

Craig and Fiona have now done full circle and returned to Corindi for the 2021-22 blueberry season.

Coalition Government delivers visa for farmers

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The Federal Liberal National Government has delivered an Australian Agriculture visa that will address the immediate workforce shortage facing Australia’s farmers, and support the ongoing structural change in the agriculture workforce.

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) has consistently called for the introduction of a dedicated agriculture visa which will allow workers from overseas to travel to Australia and work in agriculture. The Australian Agriculture visa will complement existing initiatives to recruit Australians, and the Pacific Mobility programs.

“As some of the largest employers in the horticulture sector, AFPA members have been developing a 10-year outlook on their workforce requirements. From this work, we know that developing a productive and returning workforce is key for all horticulture employers and the new visa announced today delivers another important pathway for growers to tap into a returning workforce” said AFPA Chair, Anthony Di Pietro.

The Australian Agriculture visa will be available to all agriculture sectors, including horticulture where the largest number of roles are short term, seasonal roles supporting the harvest of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“It’s pleasing to see that the new Australian Agriculture visa seems to have taken into account that the agriculture sector has a variety of different workforce needs and is looking to accommodate all of these. In horticulture, we have a number of short term, highly seasonal roles that often see workers move to follow work. This is different to other sectors, like meat processing, which may have work in the same processing facility throughout a year,” said Mr Di Pietro.

Outlined in today’s announcement is that a key component of the Australian Agriculture visa is the need for robust employer standards to ensure the welfare of future visa holders.

“Employers will be required to meet high standards to sponsor workers on this visa, and this is critical to the success of the Australian Agriculture visa. The AFPA have consistently advocated that this visa must focus on ensuring compliance with employment standards to ensure worker welfare and will continue to support this as a key part of the visa’s design” said Mr Di Pietro.

An initial challenge in operationalising the Seasonal Agriculture Worker visa will be accessing the required additional quarantine capacity to support arrivals of critical harvest and agriculture workers into Australia.

“Queensland and Tasmania have led the way in supporting the agriculture industry with quarantine arrangements and capacity, including on-farm quarantine, to support the arrival of workers from the Pacific. Now that we have an agriculture visa and expansion of the Pacific programs, we need all states and territory governments to work with industry to develop quarantine solutions,” said Mr Di Pietro.

Media Contact: Michael Rogers – CEO, AFPA: 0409 648 911

About the AFPA – The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) is made up of Australia’s key fresh produce growers and suppliers, including Costa. The AFPA represents half the industry turnover of the Australian fresh produce sector – $4.5 billion of the $9.1 billion total; 1,000 plus growers through commercial arrangements and more than 15,000 direct employees through peak harvest, and up to 25,000 in the
grower network.

Graduate Program 2022

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Designed to provide career pathways and opportunities for people passionate about the future of sustainable fresh food production, Costa’s 2022 Graduate Program is now open for applications.

Costa Group, Australia’s leading grower, packer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables, offers an 18-month Graduate Program which provides exposure across key areas of the Costa Group business including agronomy, logistics and sales and marketing.

Costa’s HR Manager Carl Phillips said providing opportunities for graduates was key to the future success of the industry as a whole.
“Our focus is on Sustainable Commercial Farming and a key element of that is our people. We are investing in the leaders of the future and providing clear career pathways,” Mr Phillips said.

“We also have a strong commitment to our regions and we support a number of university scholarships, particularly targeting students who live in the many regional communities in which we operate. The Graduate Program is a natural extension of this investment in education.”

The Costa Graduate Program provides intensive hands-on experience across a multitude of key departments within the Costa Group over an 18-month period. Rotations in different regions and business categories will include time in our nurseries, glasshouses, packing sheds, farms and agronomy teams.

Graduates will gain an insight into what happens after the product leaves the farm through exposure to the sales and marketing functions based in our Melbourne head office, as well as access to senior leaders.

The Program is open to anyone who is in the final year or finished a Bachelor or postgraduate degree in agriculture, science, agribusiness, horticulture or business. Applications are open from August 1 to September 13.