Horticulture holds but overseas workers remain crucial

25 November 2021
  • ABARES report demonstrates horticultural output remained steady in the face of labour shortages.
  • Horticultural farm labour fell by eight per cent between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
  • Australian Government labour market initiatives have been critical to the Agriculture sector.

The horticulture sector has maintaining output during COVID-19 despite workers shortage.

ABARES’s Labour use in Australian agriculture: Analysis of survey results report, released today, revealed that horticultural farm output levels have remained steady, despite an eight per cent drop in the number of workers employed on horticulture farms.

Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia David Littleproud said the labour market initiatives implemented by the Australian Government, particularly the restart of the Pacific Labour mobility programs, have played an important role in addressing shortages of workers.

“It speaks volumes about the resilience and initiative of the horticultural industry that they have maintained their output despite the difficulties presented by COVID-19,” Minister Littleproud said.

“However, while industry has sustained production, some of these adaptations are unsustainable in the long run.

“According to ABARES work over 50 per cent of horticulture farms had difficulties accessing workers over 2020-21. Farmers have been clever and resourceful, but it cannot go on forever.

“Left unaddressed, we run the risk of shortages in food products on our shelves and that will mean cost increases at the checkout. 
“We cannot take our eye off the ball, we need to ensure agriculture has a long-term sustainable workforce. That is why we now have the Agriculture Visa.

“Our agriculture industry, particularly the horticulture industry, have always kept Australians and the world fed, but they have done so with one hand tied behind their back.

“I am proud to be part of a government that is backing the long-term future of Australian horticulture through the Australian Agriculture Visa which will be a game changer for the long-term future and growth of the horticulture industry.

Fast Facts:

  • ABARES survey data from the Labour use in Australian agriculture: Analysis of survey results indicates that the total number of workers used by Australian horticulture farms declined around 8 per cent (11,100 workers) from 2019–20 to 2020–21.
  • Horticulture producers responded to the reduced availability of overseas labour by increasing the hours worked by the existing workforce, altering production systems and by employing more Australians and overseas residents already in Australia — incentivised by government labour market initiatives.