Grain Producers Australia has advocated practical solutions to resolve grains workforce issues at a Roundtable in Brisbane today, hosted by Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt.
This event enabled farm representative groups to table their key challenges and opportunities, ahead of the Federal Labor Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit on 1-2 September 2022.
GPA Chair and WA grain producer, Barry Large, thanked Minister Watt and his Department for the opportunity to highlight specific priorities and needs, to try to resolve ongoing workforce shortages for the grains sector.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent border closures has severely limited the supply of workers for grain producers. Especially Working Holiday Maker visa holders from northern hemisphere countries to operate heavy machinery during surge periods on-farm such as harvest,” he said.
“This loss has been felt most acutely in WA over the past two years, but has also been experienced at varying degrees by our members throughout Australia’s major grain producing states.
“Whilst we produced a record 62 million tonne grain harvest last year valued at $26 billion, we are victims of our own success. Many growers called on family and friends to help get them through the last harvest and with a good growing season another big harvest is on the horizon this year.
“We still have concerns about workforce shortages and compound social and economic impacts of fatigue and burnout for farmers and rural communities. We welcome Minister Watt’s recognition of these issues and his work to try to find pragmatic solutions, to support the grain sector’s needs.”
Mr Large said GPA put forward priority solutions at the Roundtable, and highlighted the self-help initiative of Operation Grain Harvest Assist which connected former ADF members with farmers to work on grain farms throughout the nation during the last harvest.
He said GPA has also established GPA Training to support the delivery of online skills training to support farmers, along with workplace safety programs, using modern technologies.
GPA backed other initiatives raised at the Roundtable, with cross-sector benefits for agriculture, including improved digital connectivity, better accommodation options and targeted education and promotional programs, to encourage and support careers in agriculture.
Support rapid return and incentivisation of workers from northern hemisphere countries on the Working Holiday Maker Visa, with skill and experience needed to operate heavy machinery.
Support specific skills training for heavy machinery operators to increase local supply of workers – in particular to encourage more women into these roles. Promote operating farm machinery as an exciting career opportunity, to utilise new technology in areas such as precision agriculture.
Support a ‘paddock ready/harvest ready’ apprentice training program, with professional placement on farm, to help with resolving skills gaps and incentivising young farmers to take up ag-careers.
Do more to resolve serious shortages of truck drivers and train drivers to help move the crop from up country to port and into export markets efficiently, to capture more value for the local economy.
Prioritise GPA’s submission to the ANZSCO process to change and modernise the relevant visa categories and classifications, to support access to heavy machinery operators.
More flexible visa options – ie multiple entry visas – to enable more workers with skill and experience needed to operate heavy machinery, supported by local training options.
As per GPA’s national policy and advocacy plan, support ways of incentivising retirees, with better tax/payment arrangements, to work in agriculture/rural areas and also this approach for veterans.