500 per cent labour surge
AGRICULTURE'S workforce needs can surge by a whopping 500 per cent in peak times, new research reveals. The National Farmers' Federation's 2018 farm workforce survey shows farmers from all sectors - including horticulture, dairy, beef and grains - are still struggling to fulfil their staffing needs.
The findings have prompted the NFF to renew its call for a dedicated agriculture visa.
NFF workplace relations manager Ben Rogers said the survey provided a "snapshot” of the workforce situation, and reinforced the anecdotal evidence of how much farmers were struggling.
"We've been calling for a dedicated agriculture visa for some time now and we think it might be one of the solutions to this constant problem,” Mr Rogers said.
Two-thirds of the 160 farmers surveyed ranked labour concerns as one of their top three issues - alongside red tape and employment costs - with most reporting shortfalls in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
Almost 90 per cent had workforces made up of permanent Australian workers.
Mr Rogers said while there were more respondents from the grains and livestock industries - as opposed to horticulture, which traditionally relies more heavily on casual foreign workers - the results showed "farmers would prefer to engage domestic workers before they turn to migrant workers”.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows there were 217,000 full-time and 88,000 part-time agriculture jobs created in 2017 - yet industry says it is still short by almost 100,000 workers.
The Rural Weekly's sister paper, the Weekly Times, reported in February that backpackers - often used to supplement workforces - are turning away from Australia, with numbers dropping 60,000 in five years. Mr Rogers said a dedicated agriculture visa focused on the sector's needs could help.
"The backpacker visa is principally about cultural exchange and labour is secondary, so when you have things like the backpacker tax debate, agriculture's needs get lost,” he said.
"The seasonal worker program is great, but ultimately it is a foreign aid program.”
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud did not answer directly when asked if an agriculture visa was being considered, saying: "I'm acutely aware of the issue of farm labour shortage and I'm working hard to help farmers”.