The first international fruit pickers allowed into WA since March have arrived in Perth after an incentive scheme to get to get Aussies working on farms failed. A total 162 Vanuatu nationals will spend their first night of 14-day quarantine in Perth hotels tonight after arriving at Perth Airport at 1.35pm today. The plane stopped to refuel at Brisbane after flying from the Vanuatu capital Port Vila but the workers were not allowed to disembark. Vanuatu has not had any community cases of COVID-19, with the country’s first suspected case testing negative earlier this month. Another plane with 162 workers is expected to touch down on January 7, with some of those workers expected to go as far north as Broome. Today’s arrival was welcomed by vegetablesWA chief executive John Shannon, who said the effort was a “drop in the ocean” of how much people power was needed. “This is a small part of filling the incredible amount of demand for labour the horticulture industry has,” Mr Shannon said. “We hope to continue to work with State Government to bring in further flights over the course of the next year. “It is unlikely backpackers will be returning to WA in any numbers any time soon.” The workers are signed up to the Federal Government’s seasonal worker program and mark its first WA arrivals since the sweeping ban on international travel in March. They are expected to go to orchards and farms from Gingin to Mt Barker from January 4, picking pumpkins, broccolini, carrots melons and strawberries. Employers paid for the workers’ flights and hotel quarantine — which costs $2500 for two weeks — but staff will reimburse their flight costs during their stay in Australia. Their arrival comes after just 306 people have signed up to the WA Government’s Primary Industries Workers Regional Travel and Accommodation Support Scheme. The lack of interest comes despite cash incentives to help cover accommodation and relocation, and a marketing campaign called Wander Out Yonder. The scheme allows workers to claim $40 a night in accommodation for 12 weeks and an additional travel rebate of up to $500 to move more than 100km from home. WA’s horticulture and agriculture industries require about 7000 seasonal workers each year but international border closures have resulted in a severe labour shortage. The number of seasonal workers arriving in Australia down to 35,000 from the usual number of 140,000 during the past 12 months. The nation’s horticulture industry is projecting a shortfall of 26,000 fruit and vegetable pickers by March. Mr Shannon said the workforce shortage had some WA fruit and vegetable growers ploughing in crops, while others dramatically scaled back their plantings earlier this year. “I have heard varying reports of growers reducing plantings by up to a half because they knew they were not going to be able to pick it,” he said. “Consumers will find some of the fruit and vegetable prices nudging up, because there is a little bit of a shortage.” Today’s arrival comes nearly four months after more than 160 mango pickers from Vanuatu arrived in Darwin on September 3.