With the warmer weather finally rearing its head, the 400-strong team over at Hillwood Berries are hard at work picking and sorting the farm's expanse of ripening strawberries.
As the operation began gearing back up over the last few weeks, the farm has welcomed the return of another 100 seasonal workers who were transferred over to Queensland earlier this year to pick fruit in Tasmania's off season.
Many of the returning workers are familiar faces, as Hillwood Berries manages its own seasonal workforce, instead of using a third-party recruiter.
According to Hillwood Berries farm manager Simon Dornauf, establishing a more direct connection with their workers has been an important aspect of the fast-growing business.
"From full-time through to our seasonal workers - we can treat everyone the same and they know who's looking after them," he said.
That direct employment strategy forced the business to pivot drastically in the past two years after hundreds of the farm's fly-in workers from the Pacific Islands became stranded in Tasmania during the pandemic.
About 250 of the farm's workforce have been unable to return either due to hard border restrictions or fearing that once out of Australia they would be unable to return to work in the following season.
Despite the challenge, however, the Hillwood Berries team have endeavoured to support an inflated roster of employees.
"COVID obviously threw a spanner in the works but it's also been a great opportunity for them to continue to work and make even more money than they would have in a normal season," Mr Dornauf said.
At first, managing the bolstered workforce presented a few logistical challenges for the farm, but ultimately the stranded workers have helped alleviate a nationwide labour shortage.
"When things have been quiet here, we've been sending people out to apple orchards and vineyards to help them out. We've also worked with growers in Queensland so our workers could go over and pick there in the off season," he said.
One of the farm's stranded workers is Delfin da Silva, who has not returned to East Timor and his four grown children since 2019.
If borders are fully opened, Mr da Silva and many of his co-workers will be chartered back to visit their homes and families in April of next year, but like many of the farm's seasonal staff, Mr da Silva remains eager to return to Hillwood next season.
"Hillwood is a good company - it feels like a second home. I will come back here again," Mr da Silva said.
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