Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce president Graham Parker is worried about the projected job losses.
Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce president Graham Parker is worried about the projected job losses.

Granite Belt to lose 900 jobs by end of summer

THE results of a survey paint a pretty grim picture for the future of jobs on the Granite Belt.

Drought, fire and chronic water shortages will combine to rob the Granite Belt horticulture sector of the equivalent of 900 full-time jobs by the end of summer according to a survey complied by the Granite Belt Growers Association.

But some argue that figure is "very conservative".

The result will be about a $40 million reduction in wages paid to full-time, seasonal or backpacker labourers.

Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier commissioned the survey and said some farms will be hit harder than others.

"We are keen to emphasise that whilst the numbers are significant we are no where near a write-off," Mr Ferrier said.

The $40 million figure represents about a 42 per cent reduction in wages paid within the Granite Belt horticulture sector.

The GBGA survey found the region's horticulture agribusinesses are expected to be short about $60 million in sales.

"That is just horticulture agribusiness and does not take into account the downturn in businesses that support the livestock sector," Mr Ferrier said.

"It is a big hit for a small town like Stanthorpe. It is almost 100 million lost."

Mr Ferrier is concerned out-of-work skilled labourers are leaving the district for jobs elsewhere.

"The potential loss of skilled workers and their families is considered the longest lasting effect of the drought," he said.

Mike Hayes from Sirromet Wines said the loss of between 2500-3000 backpackers from the area could be devastating.

"I think that 900 figure is quite conservative.

"If you take a place like Ballandean where a lot of farmers simply do not have the water to farm for the 19/20 season the impact there alone is going to be extraordinary.

"If they don't employ these people that is an enormous amount of money that won't be there for our town.

"I think that figure of 900 is quite charitable. I think it is going to be a hell of a lot higher than that."

He said Sirromet's own work force has been reduced to less than half its normal levels. The famed winery could be looking at a situation where they don't have a harvest on the horizon.

"We do not have any water to even irrigate the 260 acres so we're relying on the god pump... as in rain," Mr Hayes said.

"We've just recently put off all our pruners.

"We don't need tractor operators to mow. Our spraying program has reduced. Our work force is way down to less than half.

"It's unfortunate that we've had to let some very, very good workers go but I'm sure we're not the only ones in that boat.

"As the old saying goes - things are grim Jim."

Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce president Graham Parker wishes he had answers, but the reality is there's no quick fix.

"For a town the size of ours to lose that many jobs in the agriculture sector is going to have a devastating effect, not just on the economy, but personally on the families," Mr Parker said.

"In some instances I know husbands and wives who have both lost their jobs.

"What are their options? Either to move away or to try find other work and there's not the other work out there at the moment.

"There is no short term, quick fix.

While he believes Emu Swamp Dam will offer some help once construction starts, he believes we're in the midst of a "humanitarian crisis".

"The town is in a lot of trouble.

"Things are tough at the moment, they are going to get a lot tougher.

"What are our levels of government doing? They are arguing amongst themselves about who is responsible for what.

"But our community will rally and support people where they can. As they always have," he said.