Australia’s agricultural sector is set for a record $73bn year but labour shortages and border restrictions are threatening farmers’ ability to deliver on the promise of a bumper harvest. Moreover, The National Farmers’ Federation said this year’s remarkable growth was an important step towards its goal to lift agriculture to a $100bn industry by 2030. According to the quarterly Rabobank rural confidence survey, also released on Tuesday, “Australian farm sector confidence is at one of its highest levels in the survey’s history”. But Rabobank Australia’s chief executive, Peter Knoblanche, said the biggest concerns among farmers in relation to Covid-19 were the impact of restrictions on securing farm labour and on shipping delays and container costs.
The agriculture minister, David Littleproud, said 27,000 men and women from 10 Pacific nations had been found to work in regional Australia but that only 10,000 of those could be brought in. He praised South Australia’s creation of its own quarantine facility and for being the first state to offer in-country quarantining in Vanuatu, as well as the Northern Territory for working with the federal government.
Littleproud announced a new agricultural visa in August. It will provide a pathway to permanent residency which he said would allow workers to be part of communities rather than transient. The visa’s 30 September start date may be too late to accommodate the labour demands of the bumper winter grain crop expected in three weeks. The NFF acknowledged that this year’s harvest would be worth $30bn – a key pillar of the $70bn-plus forecast.
The labour shortage will be felt in many of the skilled roles involved in seasonal harvesting work, including header drivers, mechanics and general harvest staff for grain crops such as wheat, barley, oats and canola. Moreover, with Queensland stopping every vehicle that crosses the border and demanding four different documents be shown at the checkpoint, Mailler estimates that the extra 1,000 truck movements due to the harvest will result in more than six hours of stoppages a day.
Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)