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    Jo Gardner from Australian Wildflowers farm at Mt Talbot.

Border handicap in wildflower harvest

The entire September 15, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

Victorian and South Australian travel restrictions are causing a major issue for a Wimmera wildflower business trying to operate farms on both sides of the border.

Complications surrounding interstate travel means Australian Wildflowers is struggling to recruit seasonal workers to harvest banksia blooms, a key element for commercial posies, in South Australia.

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Australian Wildflowers, which has Wimmera farms in the Wartook Valley, Mt Talbot and Clear Lake, also harvests flowers at Lucindale, Naracoorte and Furner across the border.

Owner and managing director Jo Gardner said interstate travel restrictions had made it hard to build a workforce necessary to cut and transport the flowers.

“We can’t get banksias picked to anywhere near what we need to at Lucindale. We’re trying to recruit, but it’s ‘blind’ recruiting and while we usually have backpackers filling the roles we can only appoint people in SA,” she said.

“We have a couple of pickers, but we could be doing four times as much as we are and it’s already had a big impact on the business.”

But Ms Gardner said she ‘completely’ understood the border restrictions, adding that it was another aspect of the pandemic that demanded the business keep adapting.

“I understand where the South Australian government is coming from in having stricter testing and vaccination guidelines for travellers,” she said.

“It’s a smack in the teeth for us, but it’s fully understandable.

“Our duty of care is for our communities and work productivity must take a back seat in this circumstance. We have stringent occupational, health and safety guidelines and we are really proud of our workforce abiding by these and keeping them front of mind.”

About 80 percent of the banksias that go towards the thousands of posies the business creates, grow in the South Australian farms.

The South Australian picking team operating out of the Lucindale base usually involves six or more people.

“The two are hanging in there,” Ms Gardner said.

She said her business had applied for all exemptions but the process was overwhelming and the best and safest process was to try to get more South Australian locals involved.

“Our core focus has to be community safety. We’ll just grin and bear it and get back there when we can,” she said.

“In the current climate there is no point panicking – if you do that you’re just going to wear yourself out. We’re still getting our stuff out the door, but just not as much as the market would like.

“Meanwhile, if there’s anyone in the Lucindale, Naracoorte area looking for a seasonal picking job just contact us. Details are on our website.”

The majority of Australian Wildflowers’ staff is based at Laharum.