Fruit growers in the Riverina are adjusting to new COVID-19 health restrictions and increased demand during what has been a much lighter harvest than usual.
Orchards have been affected by ongoing drought and the summer bushfires which tore through regions such as Batlow earlier this year.
Mouat's Farm in Batlow, which grows several apple varieties along with a smaller crop of cherries, has seen an estimated 30 to 40 per cent decline on last year's crop since picking began in the middle of February.
The orchard's co-owner Greg Mouat told The Daily Advertiser his harvest, which will run until the start of May, was "going quite well" despite not having the volume seen in previous years.
"That initially was to do with the dry weather and the drought in the previous season when the buds for this crop were forming ... but what's also exacerbated that is that we were pretty badly damaged by fire," Mr Mouat said.
"And it's nationally a lighter crop right through all the growing regions."
Mr Mouat, who has been in the apple business for more than 30 years, said recent rain in Batlow would help but had come too late for this current season.
"I mean, it's fruit growing, there are any number of disasters that can befall you ... But I think this is probably, not the worst, but it's up there with the bad ones," Mr Mouat said.'
Mouat's Farm sells about 70 per cent of its apples to supermarkets, which have been facing unprecedented demand around the country due to a coronavirus-led shopping surge.
"I think people will appreciate it more too, the value of food production in Australia. You get something like coronavirus come in ... and people really start to think about where their food comes from and how important it is to them," Mr Mouat said.
The closure due to COVID-19 of Australia's borders to anyone who isn't a citizen, permanent resident or close family member has raised questions about people who would otherwise have come from overseas on temporary work visas, whose labour the fruit industry is known for depending on.
Mr Mouat said apple farms in Batlow had already hired their overseas staff, as their harvesting season was well underway.
"All of the labour we employ is contract labour ... they're out on visas. They tend to come out here and work for a few years then send their money back home and then of course they have to go back home," Mr Mouat said.
"There are a few of them who are permanent residents but the majority of them sort of come and go over the period of time."
Mr Mouat acknowledged that coronavirus had created "uncharted territory" for food producers in Australia.
Griffith orchard and wholesaler Rinaland, which grows several crops and will soon start harvesting navel oranges, has only produced about half of last season's fruit.
Rinaland Owner Ross Grillo said he was down about 1500 tonnes at a time of unprecedented demand from retailers.
"Woolworths have been very good to us. They've offered to reduce our orders, or we only supply whatever we can do in the 24 hours," Mr Grillo said.
"It's still enormous what they're after but we're not supplying as many as they want because we can't do it."
Rinaland employs 35 staff, about 8 of whom are backpackers on working holiday visas who have already been in Griffith for three or four months.
Mr Grillo said his business had introduced new COVID-19 safety measures.
"We've done is we've reduced our people on the line and instead of working one shift we're working three. We used to have nine or 10 people on the line and now we've only got three," Mr Grillo said.
"It's not easy at the moment, I'll put it that way."
Mr Grillo said his overseas staff would stay in Griffith until October after which they would usually head north for more work, plans which are now up in the air amid coronavirus border closures.
"I think by then the borders will be open and if not they'll have to go home ... it's not very nice for them and they're nice kids," he said.
Australian Workers' Union official Mick Ivle, who is based in Batlow, said fresh produce was "crucially important."
"People in the country areas need to comply with health authorities are saying. It's really important to keep that supply chain going so we've got food," Mr Ivle said.