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Australia’s peak national grain grower advocacy group is urging the Federal Government to address chronic labour shortages which carry the potential to cause market failure in the WA grains industry.

Grain Producers Australia Chief Executive, Colin Bettles, said the announcement of a new Agriculture Worker Visa may be welcomed by some sectors, but it wasn’t a silver bullet solution.

He said the grains industry’s needs were vastly different to horticulture which the ag-visa seemed to target by providing access to seasonal workers from 10 ASEAN countries, in future.

“The grains industry requires specialist, skills-based seasonal workers with the expertise and experience to operate heavy farm machinery; especially during harvest periods. That’s why immediate action is needed by the government now, to help overcome a chronic shortage of these skilled workers for the WA harvest which is rapidly approaching,” he said,

“While this situation has been caused by a number of factors and exacerbated by border closures due to COVID-19, it is causing great uncertainty for the WA grains industry. That’s why we support the WAFarmers Grains Council in calling for urgent action to fill this gap in labour supply.”

The latest ABARES Australian Crop Report says conditions are “very favourable” at the start WA’s 2021–22 winter cropping season. Area planted is forecast to increase by 5 per cent to a record high 8.7 million hectares with production of 17.5 million tonnes; 15pc above the 10-year average.

In order for WA to realise the full potential of this output which is mostly export oriented – and as a significant contributor to the forecast record-breaking $66.3 billion year in national farm production and total winter crop production of 46.8mt in 2021–22 – labour supply is critical.

WAFarmersGrains is appealing to the Western Australian and Federal governments to act urgently to allow experienced harvest workers onto WA farms in time for the coming grain harvest, with President Mic Fels saying that access to quarantine and flights is the missing link right now.

“This short-term crisis for the coming WA harvest can only be solved by facilitating experienced workers from the northern hemisphere, particularly Europe and North America,” he said.

“WA urgently requires at least 1000 experienced heavy farm machinery operators to have access to quarantine options and flights into WA before the 2021 harvest, which starts in October this year and August-September is the period in which they will need to arrive.”

GPA Deputy Chair and WA grain farmer, Barry Large, said GPA will be writing to Federal Ministers and MPs to support the concerns expressed by WAFarmers Grains Council, while highlighting the importance of understanding the grains industry’s distinct, specialist labour force needs.

“Rather than creating an impression the ag sector’s labour supply problems have all been solved by a new visa, more work is needed to deliver targeted solutions for the grains industry,” he said.

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