“I have 12 brothers and sisters,” he says while taking a lunch break on the Wamuran property. “I am helping them to build a house and pay for my younger brothers to study.”
Source: SBS Matthew Guest
Mr Ximenes's family live in Timor Leste’s coffee-producing Ainaro region. Coffee makes up almost one-quarter of the Timor Leste economy and about 200,000 people there rely on coffee cultivation as their main source of income.
But coffee pickers, like many South-East Asian and Pacific workers, earn a fraction of an Australian salary.
“I like to stay on the farm, the work is good,” Mr Ximenes says.
Strawberry farmer Ray Daniels counts himself lucky to have about 50 seasonal workers supporting him.
"They have saved us. We are right on the wire at the moment,” he says.
Australia's strawberry farmers are crying out for more seasonal workers
The second-generation strawberry grower has four million plants under cultivation across two properties.
“Today we will probably bring in around 35 tonnes of strawberries and it is a very labour-intensive operation,” he says.
But he is short on staff.
“We need 150 [seasonal workers] to make sure this farm operates properly, but we don't have 150.”
Mr Daniels says seasonal workers on his farm are paid for what they pick and Mr Ximenes can earn about $2,300 per week before tax, with $120 deducted for rent.
Seasonal work reforms
The federal government announced reforms this week to the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program, which bring workers to regional Australia from Pacific nations.
More than 27,000 Pacific Islanders are ready to work in Australia, the government says, but quarantine arrangements and caps on international arrivals are preventing the majority from getting here.
A new Agricultural Visa responding to workforce shortages on Australian farms will be in place by the end of this month. It is expected to double the number of Pacific and Timorese workers in Australia to more than 24,000.
The National Farmers Federation welcomes the new visa, which it has campaigned for in recent years.
"However, many Australian farmers are in a desperate situation," says its president Fiona Simson.
"And we are unlikely to see any benefits from the new visa this season."
Source: SBS Matthew Guest
The NFF has also tried to encourage more Australians to help with the spring harvest.
"Despite trying really hard, the farms are often in remote regional locations, so we do depend on labour coming in from other countries for this seasonal agricultural work," Ms Simson says.
"Seasonal workers get the harvest down in Australia. They love coming to Australia and working hard. They love earning as much money as they can to send home to their families."
Crisis after crisis
Almost half of Australia’s $430 million annual strawberry yield comes from Queensland and September is the peak harvest season.
But the shortage of workers is not the only challenge farmers are facing. Strawberry growers in particular have struggled in recent years, first with drought and then a needle crisis.
Source: SBS Matthew Guest
“We took a $4 million hit when that [needle] incident occurred,” Mr Daniels says. “It meant we struggled with our overdraft and we were trying to pull it back in financially.”
After winter rains, Mr Daniels was among many counting on a bumper spring crop to pay down debt, but low prices mean fields of ripe fruit are uneconomical to pick.
Dateline: Vanuatu workers offer lifeline for Aussie farmers
A rise in online ordering and the closure of cafes and restaurants during COVID-19 lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne are blamed for the price falls.
Now, Mr Daniels is among many farmers spraying out healthy plants.
“We have knocked out about 1.5 million plants now, and turnover is around half what it should be,” he says.
Source: Supplied Adrian Schultz
At a nearby strawberry farm, owner Adrian Schultz is also spraying fields of fruit.
“My wife Mandy and I have made the hard decision to walk away from 42,000 plants, which is basically half our farm,” says Mr Schultz, who is also president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association.
“It is devastating. We have never before considered spraying out our plants at this busy time. But we had to make that decision otherwise we will go broke.
“It is a slow-moving trainwreck and it is going to get worse.”
The National Farmers Federation says summer fruit and vegetable prices may skyrocket due to worker shortages and state border closures during the pandemic.
"If we can't get people [on farms] to pick the fruit, if we can't get the workers to move between farms interstate, if we can't get the trucks to get from paddock to consumer, then we will end up with a shortage and that will be a price rise," Ms Simson says.
"It has a huge impact on the viability of farmers and rural and regional communities that depend on these small industries."
Farmer Mr Schultz can only appeal to shoppers to take a few extra punnets of strawberries home, while they can.
“Buy a couple of kilos, that is what we are asking people to do, and put them in the freezer.”
Update: This article has been updated to include earning potential for workers on Mr Daniels' farm.