Solving the labour supply challenge must be front of mind for all political candidates ahead of this year’s federal election, according to AUSVEG chief executive officer James Whiteside.
He said the biggest challenge facing horticulture growers throughout the country was accessing efficient, reliable and competent workers.
‘‘Improving profitability and productivity is essential to growing the industry’s value, which already sits at $11billion but with substantially more potential,’’ Mr Whiteside said.
‘‘However, accessing a more dependable workforce is key for horticulture’s ability to grow and continue to prosper, all at a time when consumers crave a healthy diet and healthy food options.’’
AUSVEG, along with other members of the National Farmers’ Federation Horticulture Council, have long been advocating for an agriculture visa, but Mr Whiteside said it had led to ‘‘mixed results’’.
‘‘The Coalition says it is supportive of an agriculture visa and will deliver it, but also says it needs more data,’’ he said.
‘‘The Labor party is also supportive of a dedicated visa for the industry, but it hasn’t seen the detail of what the industry wants — the detail has since been sent to them by AUSVEG.
‘‘Horticulture deserves a committed workforce.
‘‘It is a challenging environment for anybody who would like to pick and pack produce during the night, or out in the elements during the day. Much of it is hard, tough, physical work.’’
Mr Whiteside said businesses always preferred to employ locals, and while the industry continued to benefit from backpackers, he didn’t believe it was a reliable solution.
‘‘Many backpackers will do their 88 days to tick the box and continue on their travels.
‘‘This becomes an ongoing management issue for employers.
‘‘Imagine running a business where you need to replace a large chunk of your staff every three months — to recruit them, induct them and train them, only to see them moving on after only a few months.
‘‘The Seasonal Worker Program is a great addition to the horticulture sector, but again, it is not perfect.
‘‘There are limitations in how long these workers can stay on-farm and it is a complex process, which excludes growers that don’t have the administrative capacity to manage the bureaucracy.
‘‘AUSVEG urges all growers to talk to their local candidates in the weeks ahead and let them know about the labour issues on their property, as it is crucial for the elected government to commit to and implement an agriculture visa after May 18.’’