Backpacker numbers dwindle as drought slams region

THERE'S a distinct absence of something in the streets and on the farms of Stanthorpe right now.

Backpackers are few and far between.

With jobs drying up and the drought conditions only worsening, backpackers have been forced to seek work in other corners of the country.

Backpackers of Queensland hostel in Stanthorpe say their guest numbers would be down more than 50 per cent on the usual figures.

"Our numbers are dramatically down,' Backpackers of Queensland's Michele Gee said.

"As everyone knows, there's a lot of farms that haven't even planted this year, or if they have, they've cut back dramatically.

"Some farms that have planted have found their water hasn't lasted as long as they expected and have had to finish abruptly

Backpackers are being forced to find work away from the Granite Belt with jobs few and far between.
Backpackers are being forced to find work away from the Granite Belt with jobs few and far between. Amber Toms

"I think, like everyone else, we've braced ourselves knowing it's going to be a bad season.

"Everyone just kept thinking the rain would come but it hasn't. All you can do is make the best of a bad situation and keep trying," Ms Gee said.

At Angus Ferrier's Rosemary Hill Orchard, about 40km west of Stanthorpe, it's been a horror season.

"We've just completed our season. Our yields were predictably down on what we'd normally expect and we've completed our harvest this year with roughly half the labour we'd normally employ," the orchard operator and Granite Belt Grower's Association president said.

While Mr Ferrier and the grower's association don't have exact statistics, he suggests backpacker numbers could be down by 50 to 75 per cent.

"I want to emphasise I don't have raw data to back this up, but I would support anyone who suggested there were 2500 less backpackers in town today.

"Logically, there will be a higher proportion of vegetable growers growing less than they would normally, relative to the tree crop growers, so therefore it's highly likely the backpacker numbers in town so far this season and forseeably in this season should be down somewhere between 50 and 75 per cent."

Mr Ferrier says previously compiled data and results from surveys, including one from the association he presides over, had been "too optimistic".

But for Ms Gee, she's had to be open and honest with prospective guests. Even if that means a loss of money.

"A lot of people contact us before they come here and we've just had to tell them honestly that there's no jobs or very few jobs.

"Obviously if the water doesn't come it'll be no better this time next year," she said.

Stanthorpe Border Post

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