Backpackers have returned to Australia in force and farmers are happy with the boost to the rural workforce.  

It’s come as a relief for Tasmanian raspberry farmer Richard Clark, who has seen a cool, wet spring delay his berry harvest this season.

“It’s a very condensed season, so there are a lot of berries in a very short amount of time, requiring a lot of people,” he said.

The number of working holiday visa holders has started to build since Australia reopened its international borders in December 2021, helping fill the estimated 172,000 worker shortfall in the food supply chain.

A total of 135,000 Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa holders arrived in Australia in 2022, according to the Department of Home Affairs.

Since early December, 24,000 WHM visas have been granted, with many visa holders yet to arrive.

Backpackers picking raspberries.
Backpackers picking raspberries at Westerway in the Derwent Valley.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

“As of December 30, 2022, there are nearly 73,900 WHM visa holders offshore who can travel to Australia,” a department spokesperson said.

“The median processing times for WHM visas is currently less than one day.”

Mr Clark said international travellers complemented the local workforce.

“Without that surge of backpackers in the peak, critical period, fruit goes on the ground,” he said.

A farmer wearing a broad brimmed hat standing in front of bushes.
Raspberry farmer Richard Clark is relieved that international backpackers have returned.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

That was almost the case during the pandemic, when the farm managed harvests without backpackers — but only just.

“It was incredibly difficult to find enough people who were efficient, productive and farm-fit to do the work that was required during COVID,” Mr Clark said.

From Tokyo to rural Tasmania

Japanese backpacker Beniaka Miyamoto said she was glad Australia had opened up to international travellers.

She has been in the country for seven months and arrived in the berry-growing region of Westerway in the Derwent Valley, 70 kilometres west of Hobart, after a stint on farms on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

A woman is picking berries, wearing a hat and gloves.
Backpacker Beniaka Miyamoto from Tokyo is enjoying living and working in the country.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

“My friends said Tasmania is very good for a farm job because it’s good money,” Ms Miyamoto said.

“I googled, and Google says there is very good air here, people are kind, and it’s peaceful.”

Ms Miyamoto planned on applying for a second working holiday visa and needed to fulfil a visa requirement to work 88 days in a rural or regional area.

With accommodation tight in many Australian regions, labour hire organisers and social media pages are reporting that backpackers want accommodation on-farm or nearby.

International backpackers need housing

Belle Binder runs a labour-hire firm in Devonport in North West Tasmania that specialises in agriculture.

A woman with brown hair, wearing red and white flannelette shirt, standing in front of a tree
Belle Binder runs a labour-hire firm in Devonport specialising in agriculture.(Supplied: Left Field)

She said she had welcomed a lot of backpackers over the past month and needed more for the vegetable and fruit harvests in her region.

“I’ve dedicated a lot of time to networking and finding people in groups so then we can partner a little bit because we’ve got the work there, we’ve got the workers wanting to work, it’s just a matter of finding accommodation close by,” Ms Binder said.

“It’s not something I’ve really had to worry about before.

“I put myself in backpackers’ shoes. They’re in a foreign country, they don’t have any local information … so we’re trying to go above and beyond.”

Finding a place to stay 

A woman in raspberry patch picking fruit, smiles.
Backpacker Beniaka Miyamoto picking raspberries.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

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