Grantham Orchards, Lockyer Valley Region, Queensland

After 32 years, Rod Dalton knows a thing or two about growing fruit.  It was in the early 2000s when a lack of water in the Lockyer Valley region led Rod to change crops from citrus and avocados to stone fruit, persimmons and figs.  This change has proven to be a very positive one for Rob’s future.

While drought remains a challenge, Rod’s crops have proven to be hardy and productive in the sandy loam soil of that part of the Lockyer Valley.

Rod and Jeanette employ around 25 regular and seasonal workers over an 8-month harvest season.  While he depends on locals to fill his skilled and longer-term positions, Rod relies on the backpackers to complete his workforce in peak season, and the coming summer season has him a little worried. 

Stone fruit harvest begins in September and in October. Harvest time is very busy at Grantham Orchards, with workers picking six days a week to ensure only the sweetest, juiciest peaches and nectarines end up on shelves across Australia.

Persimmon harvest is in March/April and the fig harvest extends from January to June.

“We pick regularly to get the quality we want to deliver to customers – we want the fruit to be ready to eat.”

As a regular employer of overseas workers, Rod is not alone in expressing concern for a looming shortage of available employees.  While he has had a continuous flow of around 10 enquiries a week for work recently, he believes these are coming from displaced hospitality workers and the re-opening of cafes, pubs and restaurants on the coast will surely lure some of these workers out of regional areas, creating a real shortage for the coming harvests.

Rod usually keeps his workers for the full harvest period.  A high quality hostel in Grantham, housing up to 250 workers, services the region and provides a steady flow of workers – at present – but the future is not certain.

Rod’s approach to employing is straightforward: look after and respect your workers, and train them to give their best for your business. In an industry where employee turnover is high, this is sound advice for employers wanting some stability in their workforce.