Current Labour shortage in Agriculture for Australia

Current Labour shortage in Agriculture for Australia

The gross value of Australia’s agricultural production is forecast to reach a record $73.0 billion in 2021–22. If realised, this would be the first time that agricultural gross value has surpassed $70 billion

Within the past couple of years our Australian Farmers have faced all kind of challenges, such as drought, flood, fires, rodent infestations and even a pandemic. Our 2021 harvest has been predicted to be another bumper harvest, not quite as big as last year but still 13% above the 10-year average.

With the on-going pandemic, the agricultural sector is facing a strain on the current international border closures which have caused a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers to enter Australia. The limited availability of seasonal harvest labour will continue to present challenges for Australian agricultural businesses.

Usually, skilled workers from the northern hemisphere would travel to Australia to work in the agricultural sector for the harvest period but during the past 18 months, Australia has lost thousands of workers which have left the country and are unable to return with the border closures.

With this current strain, these positions have been advertised for months but have been unsuccessful with obtaining skilled workers to operate these positions. This has increased the fear in harvest time with the possibility of losing millions of dollars’ worth of crops in the adverse weather if crops are not harvested on time.

Australian farmers rely on seasonal workers entering Australia from the Pacific Islands to supplement their harvest workforce, but with the current COVID-induced shortfall of roughly around 26,000 seasonal workers lost due to restrictions. Not all states are facing the same strain of the current shortage. We were fortunate enough to receive about 300+ seasonal workers to be flown into Western Australian earlier this year, with a third group which have arrived in March this year.

Predominately with the shortages in the Fruit and vegetables sector (seasonal pickers), dairy sector, and crops sector, with a large demand on farm supplies such as infrastructures and machinery.

‘The consequence of this is that fruit will go unpicked, cows will go unmilked, the supply of food and fibre products produced by Australian farms will be constricted and prices for everyday Australians will go up.’ – as stated from the National Farmers Federation

*Demand for unskilled labour is elevated across the economy, adding additional pressure to businesses looking to secure temporary workers. A new Agriculture Visa has been announced, to commence in late 2021. This will make more overseas workers available to agricultural businesses. However, businesses will remain largely reliant on domestic labour supply and existing seasonal worker programs for immediately upcoming harvests. The free movement of available harvest labourers within and between key growing regions, including across state borders, will remain critical in coming months. Agricultural activities are considered an essential service in all states and territories, which allows movement across borders. Differences in state requirements for vaccination of essential workers may introduce frictions. Outbreaks of COVID-19 in regional centres could also present additional complications for securing labour into or out of those regions.[* ABARES Agricultural Commodities: September quarter 2021]

Just remember, while we are still facing the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s important to understand while the world stands still, our dedicated Australian Farmers are working to ensure they can provide the country with meats, grains and produce. So, make sure you ‘Thank a Farmer for your next meal’.

Steve, The Silologist