Farmers worry about labour shortage

By Geoff Adams

Australian farmers are facing a labour shortage and are worried about who will harvest crops amid a ban on foreigners entering the country.

The agricultural sector is working to forecast how many people it will need to pick crops and take on other jobs once the foreign workers it relies on are blocked by a border closure from Friday night.

“We will get all of our crops harvested one way or another,” Richard Shannon of horticultural body Growcom said on Friday.

Agriculture, forestry and fisheries employees make up 2.5 per cent of Australia's workforce. But seasonal workers from Pacific nations are also needed for fruit and vegetable picking. The countries they call home had already announced they'd be stopping their citizens from leaving amid the coronavirus pandemic, before Australia said it would be closing its borders to foreigners.

The Federal Government says it is close to announcing visa extensions for seasonal workers and backpackers already here, so they can keep working.

“We've got to understand there's over 140 000 backpackers in the country at the moment, and over 7000 Pacific Island workers with their visas,” Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said.

“There is a workforce that is here and it's about making sure that we continue to provide continuity to our producers.”

Some within the farming industry believe the visa system is too complicated and should be simplified.