Last year Manjimup cherry farmer George Grozotis’ crop was destroyed by a freak hail storm, followed by two weeks of cool weather and frost. He could only salvage 75 per cent, much of which was sold as an inferior product. This year it is not hail threatening his crop, but an alarming shortage of pickers. In the Manjimup region alone, more than 2000 seasonal workers are needed in the coming months to pick and pack fruit and vegetables including avocados, cauliflowers and cherries. And if they do not get them, thousands of dollars worth of produce could be left to rot. For cherry farmers in the south of the State, the time-frame between ripening and harvesting is a matter of days, the fruit puckering and over-sweetening if left any longer. Mr Grozotis of Cherry Lane Farms needs at least 50 workers to harvest his 14,000 trees this summer. At this stage, he is 40 short, just three weeks out from picking. “I’d say there’s 50-60 tonne of cherries that will have to come off this season,” he said. The farmer, who runs the 40ha farm with his wife Kathy, said off the back of last season it would be “devastating” and a major financial blow if they were unable to get the crop off in time this year. “Our labour costs went up massively last year,” Mr Grozotis said. “We couldn’t change anything in the picking side of it because they had to come off the trees, but in the packing shed we had to have more people grading because they were all peppered with hail marks. So they had to try and remove them and pick out the good ones.” Needing to be picked within a 7-10 day time frame and shifted to the hydro cooler within 30 minutes of coming off the tree, big numbers are needed on the ground during harvest to ensure the fruit’s shelf life is maintained. “You can’t pick them before, you have to pick them at their premium, you’ve got to pick them when they’re ripe, it’s not like other fruit you can put in a bowl and they’ll ripen.” “(If they stay on the tree) the sugar build-up gets too high and then they look like they’ve been hammered with something — the quality’s not there because they keep building sugar up.” With harvest only running for about six weeks from December, the third-generation farmer said a lot of workers would be needed in a short time frame across cherry farms in the region. He hoped university students and school leavers would help make up the numbers, but said it would be a great help if the State Government could bring in workers from the Pacific.