Miffy Gilbert, the chief executive of Ausberry Farmers, said sheds were already being shut down and fruit would be left to rot because so many workers were having to isolate.
“If you can’t pick it on time, it’s overripe and won’t meet the specification for shelf life or eating.”
Sales, prices continue to drop
Ms Gilbert said supermarkets had been open and transparent about their COVID-related issues, and she was preparing for sales and prices to continue dropping, along with workforce numbers.
“We need more rapid antigen tests (RATs) to at least keep production happening, we need more clarity on that.
“By the time we started looking for tests — maybe we were slow to the party — but there weren’t enough and the price was exorbitant.
Federal government changes
In a bid to alleviate pressure on the food supply chain, the Commonwealth has announced that workers who are close contacts of a COVID-positive case, but are asymptomatic and returning negative RATs, will be able to return to work.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) reached the new agreement for workers in food and grocery distribution chains after consultation with major supermarkets.
“We’ve worked very closely with this particular sector right from the beginning of the pandemic, they have a lot a mitigation measures in the workplace,” Professor Kelly said.
“We’ve heard from [major supermarkets] and they’re finding 30 to 50 per cent absenteeism, it’s huge, particularly in the distribution centres. They cannot work in those circumstances.”
These measures do not include public-facing staff in supermarkets, such as sales assistants in retail settings.
New rules ‘a big plus’
Chris Parisi, a wholesaler at Sydney Markets who also runs a couple of retail outlets in the city, said the change would help his business.
Mr Parisi has 120 staff on the books, but due to the pandemic only about 75 are able to work.
“A big problem for us is people having to stay at home.”
Keep supply chain moving
Woolworths Group chief executive Brad Banducci said the new rules would keep the supply chain moving.
“We’ll be as responsible and as sensible as we can, but with a focus on ensuring we keep food flowing through our supply chain.”
“Our team members who come back to the sheds, they’ll be expected to do a RAT before they go into the distribution centre, and if they’re positive, clearly they won’t be going in.”
IGA says ‘everything’ is delayed
Ritchies IGA chief executive Fred Harrison said the supply chain issues began in early December, and could take months to resolve.
“There are deliveries that are anywhere from two days to a week late and most of it is due to COVID.”
Mr Harrison said that in addition to isolation requirements draining the workforce, the supply chain was being interrupted by a lack of international products reaching Australia.
“Much of it is also problems with ingredients that are meant to come from overseas — they haven’t been arriving here,” he said