By Hugh Christie on
20 February 2023
During the 2021-2022 period, the Australian agriculture industry's gross value of production was recorded at $85 billion. This is the first time the sector has surpassed $70 billion; Farmers’ success has come off the breaking of a 3-year drought in 2020, COVID-19 and the invasion of Ukraine.
The agriculture industry has benefited from high commodity prices and a tentative global recovery in recent times. However, the productivity handbrake is still on as the industry continues to face challenges, such as disruptions to supply chains and reduced labour availability.
There is a significant labour shortage, which is driving wage pressures in the Australian agricultural sector and the industry needs more action from the Federal Government to address this issue. The shortage of workers nationally, according to National Farmers Federation Vice President David Jochinke, equates to roughly 172,000 people.
In the most recent ‘2022 salary and trend report’ by Agricultural Appointments, it was highlighted the agricultural industry faces four critical challenges in its workforce.
The first and second of these is the difficulty in attracting young candidates to the job market to fill vacancies, and the gradual retirement of baby boomers adding to a growing labour deficit.
The third, despite best efforts to attract and retain female agricultural science graduates in agribusiness, is that the sector still faces challenges in convincing women to take up long-term careers in agriculture.
The fourth, which has been a focus of many over the last couple of years, is the return of migrant workers who can help drive productivity and help address the candidate deficit, providing a potentially positive trend for the workforce.
The type of migrant labour needed to address the labour shortage ranges from skilled permanent migration to short-term working holidaymakers. And from a policy perspective, this is where the national economy can benefit from some authentic policy leadership.
One option to tackle the candidate deficiency and fill vacancies in the sector, we must consider is the option of increasing the age limit on working holiday visas. Currently, working holiday visas are restricted to eligible countries and those aged 18-30, with some European countries allowing up to age 35. However, there have been arguments for raising the age limit for short-term holiday workers to 50 to increase the potential pool of workers.
In conclusion, whilst the Australian agriculture industry has achieved remarkable progress in the past year, with the gross value of production exceeding $85 billion; the industry still faces significant challenges, such as a shortage of labour, disruptions to supply chains and reduced labour availability.
To overcome these challenges, it is essential that governments at all levels implement strategies to attract young workers and encourage them to consider agriculture as a viable career option.
Additionally, it is important to address the issue of gender inequality in the industry and support women to remain in agriculture by promoting equal opportunities and providing necessary resources.
Lastly, increasing the size of the workforce through immigration is a crucial step, and policies such as increasing the age limit on working holiday visas can help to achieve this. By acting on these fronts, the agricultural industry can continue to grow and increase its’ significant contribution to the Australian economy.
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