The mango industry is critical to the Katherine region.

The mango industry is critical to the Katherine region.

Pandemic restrictions leave mango industry in the lurch

Pandemic restrictions leave mango industry in the lurch

Agriculture
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There are fears COVID-19 restrictions hampering the annual movement of seasonal workers will badly hurt the NT's mango industry.

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There are fears COVID-19 restrictions hampering the annual movement of seasonal workers will badly hurt the NT's mango industry.

Senator Sam McMahon said the Territory mango industry was at risk of having over $100 million of mangos left to rot on the ground.

The Northern Territory produces and supplies over half of Australia's mangoes - many of those from Katherine.

Annually, between 2000 and 2500 mango harvest workers from regions that include Timor-Leste, Fiji, Vanuatu and other Asian/Pacific nations, come to the NT through either the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) or the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS).

This year, this traditional workforce has been blocked by restricted movement across Australian and international borders because of the pandemic.

Dr McMahon said, "I've been working closely with NT mango producers to find ways for them to retain access to their traditional labour force and we have developed processes that meet safety concerns and minimise the financial hardship producers are facing this year."

For most producers, sourcing of a labour force has drifted toward seasonal workers because of their exceptional abilities to work very well in conditions frequently described as harsh and the inability to attract local workers.

Dr McMahon said mango picking was incredibly hard work and required a specific skill set commonly found in people who work in the mango industry year after year.

"Australians out of work and backpackers are certainly encouraged to fill positions but are mostly unwilling or unable to travel to the NT to undertake the harvest."

Dr McMahon added, "I encourage anyone who is looking for work to contact Harvest Trail (https://jobsearch.gov.au/harvest) or NT Farmers but the reality is there are not enough people with the skills and ability, willing to come here to save this years crop."

Arriving at solutions that span across multiple Federal Government Departments has been a difficult task and Dr McMahon believes a green light will be given soon.

"I have multiple Federal Ministers agreeing on a plan with NT mango producers," she said.

"What we now need is the NT Government to show support for the industry by providing quarantine facilities for seasonal workers.

"Most large producers have the ability to isolate and quarantine their workers on-farm under stringent conditions designed to preserve biosecurity and this would be the preferred solution."

Producing approximately 40,000 tonnes of mangoes each year, NT farmers contribute more than half of the combined national crop.

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