The Australian dairy industry will need to find an additional 800 skilled workers by 2023 in order to maintain productivity, according to Dairy Australia Managing Director Dr David Nation.
The number of Australian dairy farms with six or more employees is set to increase from 4 per cent to 20 per cent by 2025, putting further strain on a sector that already struggles to find an adequate pool of labour.
“The evolution of the industry and the trend towards larger farms places greater demand on labour, but also provides opportunities for those interested in agriculture to forge a successful career,” said Dr Nation.
“The need for skilled labour is also increasing with the use of technology, the need to monitor farm inputs, animal care, milk quality, managing environmental credentials, and other aspects of dairy.”
Difficulties finding and retaining suitable labour was a common issue voiced by farmers who participated in consultation workshops for the Australian Dairy Plan, a five-year strategic plan for the industry.
Skilled Migrant Visas Key to Attracting Talent
Labour shortages have been worsened in recent years by the federal government’s restriction of the number of 457 temporary skills shortage visas, that had previously been used by the dairy industry to employ skilled migrants.
Bellmar Deloso was employed under the 457 scheme five years ago by Warrnambool dairy farmer Garry Morrison. Since then, the former Filipino resident has secured permanent residency and has risen to manage a team of eight workers and 900 cows.
Until the 457 scheme was restricted, Mr Morrison relied on migrant labour including skilled labour such as Mr Deloso, and backpackers for seasonal and low-skilled positions.
“We need staff that stay like Bellmar — he’s been a really outstanding success story for us,” Mr Morrison said.
Earlier this year, the government relaxed visa rules for skilled migrants, adding dairy farmers to the regional occupation list and increasing the Skilled Migrant Visa term from 2 to 4-years with a renewable term and better access to permanent residency for those who meet eligibility requirements.
The changes also included a more relaxed Working Holiday Visa program, allowing applicants to apply for a second visa term, and a third year option for those who have completed six months of regional work.
Focus on the Next Generation
While it’s too early to tell if these new visas have provided the dairy industry with the access to labour they require, Dairy Australia is focussing on attracting the next generation to the dairy industry, by starting a conversation with school-aged children.
“School programs such as Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers has seen more than 15,000 young people in regional locations learn more about what a career in dairy can offer. It’s important that we show the diversity of career pathways and highlight the opportunity to be successful working in dairy,” he said.
“Whether its education on milking, farm systems, animal care or farm management, ensuring education providers are armed with the right resources to support people starting a career or advancing skills for those already in dairy, is really important.”
“People are at the heart of our industry and are what make the industry a great one – attracting people to the industry by presenting the many career pathways and providing opportunities to build skills, is a continued priority.”