Meet the farmers at the frontline of Australia’s farm labour crisis

Australia’s farmers are crying out for more workers. The impasse is generating on-farm food waste, lost income, and hurting rural economies. Meet the farmers at the frontline of Australia’s farm labour crisis.

Farmers across Australia are experiencing a workforce crisis. The solution, they say, is simple: a dedicated agricultural visa. But will it arrive in time to keep their businesses afloat and avoid massive crop losses as harvest nears for many horticultural crops.

David Jennings, Huon Valley, Tasmania

David grows strawberries on his farm south of Hobart in Tasmania. Last season, he lost half of his crop because he couldn’t find enough workers to harvest it.

Over 350 tonnes of strawberries were left unpicked. He was half a workforce short on most days, and the workers coming to his farm were generally disinterested in the work.

This year, David is only harvesting half of his farm due to the massive losses he accrued last season, and says if he has another season like last year’s, his business is finished.

Guy Gueta, Orange, NSW

Guy Gaeta grows cherries and apples in Orange, NSW. Guy typically relies on backpackers to meet his short-term seasonal labour needs.

Guy has noticed a decline in backpackers seeking work in his town of Orange and worries about his ability to find sufficient workers in the future.

If the trend of fewer backpackers continues, Guy estimates that hundreds of thousands of dollars will be lost on his farm, placing the future of his business in jeopardy. Guy welcomes the Ag visa, as it will provide another labour source for his business.

Anthony Yewers, Perth region, WA

Anthony grows strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries in his farms in Western Australia. This season, his Perth farm was short 50 workers, which meant that around 30% of his crop was left unpicked.

He says there are fewer backpackers available to work, and the ones who do work on his farm often lack commitment, some leaving after only two days of work. Anthony has also tried local workers on welfare – he took on 53 at one stage, and of these, only three stayed.

Anthony wants to see more people in agriculture working on his farm, and he’s confident an Ag visa can deliver that.

David and Ruth Cormack, Humpty Doo, Northern Territory

David and Ruth Cormack have been farming watermelons for over four decades now.

Labour costs have set the Cormacks back an estimated $300 000 this year, mainly because they cannot find suitable workers for semi-skilled roles like tractor driving and supervision, and fruit has simply not been picked and processed properly as a result. On top of this, an estimated $40,000 was lost through machinery damage caused by untrained and uncaring workers, typically backpackers merely trying to fulfil their 88 days.

The Cormacks want workers who are committed to the work and either trained or willing to be trained, and thus support the agricultural visa “150 per cent”. They’re sick of hiring 2 or even 3 or 4 people for one job.

Brett Guthrey, Sydney Basin, NSW

Brett grows persimmons at his Sydney Basin farm. During peak season, over 80 percent of Brett’s workforce is made up of backpackers.

Brett is concerned that being over-reliant on backpackers is not a safe long-term option – especially with fewer backpackers coming to Australia, and the focus of the backpacker programs being on cultural exchange rather than the provision of workers to farms. The Ag Visa would provide an important supplementary labour source to farmers like Brett.

For more information on the ag visa:

Visit: https://farmers.org.au/campaign/why-agriculture-needs-a-dedicated-visa/

We also encourage you to register your labour needs with the National Harvest Labour Information Service by calling 1800 062 332 or visiting http://ow.ly/dcNL30mqcjr.

Emily Simpson

Emily Simpson

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