‘It’s helps the town, it helps everything’: Grape growers welcome return of Victorian pickers

Menindee grape growers have welcomed the return of a proper harvest after last season was impacted by difficulties sourcing agricultural workers from Victoria.

In late 2020, local growers raised concerns about workers needing to quarantine for 14 days on their return to Victoria if they came to Menindee, as the far-west town was not an exempt border community with the southern state. 

The growers said the quarantine requirement had discouraged workers from coming to help during Menindee’s key picking period of late December to early January.

But with the workers coming back again this season, local grower Graeme McCrabb said the harvest had been much better for the town. 

“The crop was a little bit late coming off because Queensland was slow to do theirs and then the bulk of the pickers went back for five days just when the crop had to picked off.

“It was a tough year, and the prices were pretty poor last year as well. So, this year’s a lot better for everyone.”

Return of Victorian pickers welcomed

Mr McCrabb, who is in first harvest this year, says he hasn’t seen a huge financial benefit during the season yet — particularly given his crimson grapes are still two to three weeks away from being picked. 

But others are already reaping the benefits of a better season. 

“It’s not just the money that those people make it’s what they bring to the town. There’s probably been 50 or 60 pickers flooding around town.

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Pickers helping out with Graeme McCrabb’s grape harvest this season(Supplied: Graeme McCrabb)

“It’s probably lucky to be 10 per cent of what it was 10  to 15 years ago … but it’s fuel and stuff through the year as well. It all makes a difference.”

Fellow grape grower Tony Lombardo said he would normally see about 12 to 15 Victorian agricultural workers helping with picking but that none of them came out last season due to the quarantine rules.

But he said the pickers were back again this season and have helped not just himself.

Water also crucial

Mr Lombardo said besides the return of the agricultural workers from Victoria, proper water management would also be key.

He said having more water coming down the river system was a good start and helped improve this season’s harvest from other recent ones. 

“The quality is slowly going back to where it should be, so in that sense it’s all worked out well.”

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