Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
A microcosm of Australians’ reluctance to work on farms can be seen in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. CEO of a group of strawberry farms, Miffy Gilbert, struggled to source labour for the current harvest, while her teenage son works as a shelf-stacker at a supermarket. Australians aren’t lazy, according to Gilbert, we’re simply spoilt for choice in a situation mirrored in most developed countries. He also believes local Australians are harder to get because they’re lucky to have a lot of employment options in front of them.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences is predicting record production values for the second year in a row. The bureau is also reporting a shortage of about 22,000 workers across the country over the next quarter, with 16,000 of these in horticulture. Closed borders have exacerbated the shortage, as has the Australian-UK trade deal in June which removed the farm work requirement for about 10,000 British backpackers to extend their working holiday visas. Gilbert started sourcing labour almost as soon as the previous harvest finished. She thought she might scrape through. However, with border closures and the lockdown in Victoria, they think they might be somewhere between 15% to 25% down.
More than $60m worth of crop losses have been self-reported by farmers nationally since mid-2020, but the actual figure is likely to be far higher. The Federal Government’s response has been twofold: try to attract Australians to take up farm work, in conjunction with overseas seasonal workers. An agricultural visa has long been on the horizon. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, promised in June to have the visa in place by the end of the year, after the announcement of the UK trade deal, but details remain vague. The other potential solution was an incentive of $6,000 for Australians to relocate for work. Former deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, even noted the Instagram opportunities for young Australians in regional locations.