QUEENSLAND is on the cusp of its biggest winter crop since 2016-17 but there is concern there may be difficulties in getting it off without access to Victorian contract harvesters.
The Queensland government came under criticism within ag circles by failing to sign up to the federal government brokered agricultural workers movement code endorsed by five other states and territories last week.
Instead it will offer an essential workers permit for contractors looking to come in, which will be awarded on a case by case basis.
Cam Parker, AgForce policy director, said there had been success in recent weeks with permits allowing NSW agricultural workers into Queensland, but nothing formal had been processed regarding Victorian workers.
A large proportion of contract harvesters in Queensland are based in Victoria as the NSW and Queensland harvests can clash.
There are concerns that if the permits prove hard to access for Victorians there will not be enough capacity to take off the crop.
Currently, Mr Parker said AgForce was assisting three Victorian businesses with application process.
"We're just waiting to see how these initial applications, which are test cases of a kind, go and whether it is going to be a workable system."
He assured the Queensland public the priority would be safety.
"We're about keeping COVID-19 out of Queensland first and getting the crop off second, but we really believe we can work through this situation."
"It was really pleasing to see the Queensland government allow cross border movement with boarding students that live in NSW local government areas with zero cases of COVID-19 - perhaps it could be workable to do the same with Victorian ag contractors, many of whom live in areas that have not reported a single case."
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has forecast a Queensland winter crop of a touch under 1.7 million tonnes.
While still 4 per cent below the ten year average that total would mark the largest harvest in the Sunshine State since 2016-17.
With contractors taking off a large proportion of the crop, farmers are now scurrying to find potential alternatives.
Mr Parker, who previously worked in the Victorian grains sector, said there was a much lower rate of farmer ownership of harvesters in Queensland.
"There is a stronger reliance on contractors in Queensland due to the climatic variability a header may not necessarily be used every year so farmers prefer to get in contractors in many instances."
Concerns over a potential wet harvest, given the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) outlook for a wetter than average spring, have exacerbated these concerns.
"The more contractors we can get in, the better," Mr Parker said.
Roger Gwynne made the decision to branch out from farming at Jondaryan on the Darling Downs to go contracting this year.
He said his phone has been running hot from farmers looking to lock something in given the uncertainties about cross border movements.
"People are a bit concerned about what is going on."
He said while many Queensland croppers had their own equipment there were others who relied on contractors and even those that did have a harvester often had big cropping programs meaning they needed another header to get the crop off in a timely manner.
Mr Gwynne said he would focus on work in Queensland this year.
"We're only just starting off and there is too much uncertainty to take on interstate jobs," he said.
"We might not be able to get there or we might get there and not be able to get back home."
Mr Parker said he believed contract harvesting teams' contact with the local community could be kept to virtually zero.
"We realise there is a different between transient freight worker permits, where they are in and out and worker permits, where people could be here for four to six weeks, but there is really only the need for groceries and spare parts that were touch points, both of which can be mitigated," he said.