30 May

(Wide) Open For Business: New Investment Model Targets True Sustainability

Image: Head Grower Kerry Dell’Agostino, CEO Dr Ben Cole and Sales Manager Merilyn Elson in The Wedge smart shade house at Arthurton in Western Australia. Supplied.

A WA-BASED PRIVATE equity business has recently launched an Initial Public Offering (IPO) with the aim of becoming the world’s first ‘4 Returns’ company to list on a stock exchange.

Wide Open Agriculture is the parent company to three main enterprises – high-tech glasshouse production, a paddock-to-plate food brand and collaborative farming venture with existing landholders.

All three enterprises are located in the West Australian Wheatbelt, a region traditionally renown as a broad acre cropping and sheep grazing district. But according to company director Dr Ben Cole, the region provides near perfect growing conditions for horticulture systems.

‘The local climate is really suited to growing crops in glass houses, as long as you can manage frost and extreme UV, and the retractable roof on our glass houses allow us to control for these conditions’.

The company was formed when the founding directors saw an opportunity to capitalise on the premium status the region had earned from employing sustainable agriculture practices such as reduced chemical use.

‘We’re trying to show that diversified farming systems offer opportunities and we want to offer farmers a pathway to market through our food brand’, he said. ‘Consumers are looking for this type of experience.’

As a resident of the Wheatbelt town of Williams, Dr Cole was also concerned about the trend of people moving from rural areas to big cities.

‘In the last 20 years, we’ve seen massive depopulation, which is a concern for someone like me raising a small family in the bush. We want to see more farmers and more people living in rural areas, which stems from creating more jobs – in farming as well as value adding’.

Returns 4U

Wide Open Agriculture works on a ‘4 Returns’ model – placing emphasis on measuring financial, social, environmental and inspirational returns.

‘We know and believe that if you’re not delivering on a 4 Returns model, you won’t be able to do business in the Wheatbelt. It’s essential to secure the return of people to the region so agriculture has a sufficient pool of workers.’

‘Likewise, if the soil on your land isn’t functioning and you have poor water quality, you’re not harnessing the free stuff you need to do business in agriculture’.

‘The financial return is of first and foremost importance, but valuing the other three returns adds more value for investors than you’d expect’.

The 4 Returns framework was developed by Netherlands-based Commonland Foundation – an NGO that invests in projects to restore degraded landscapes to improve the sustainability of the associated communities.

Commonland is also the largest shareholder in Wide Open Agriculture with 12,000,000 shares, which will represent a 17% stake in the company upon completion of the current IPO.

Farmer Perspective

Wheatbelt farmer Stuart McAlpine has recently entered into a collaborative farming venture with Wide Open Agriculture, having sold the company 320 hectares of his cropping and livestock farm.

Mr McAlpine has a long-term lease option on the block, with a holistic farm plan drawn up between the two parties.

The plan applies a three-zone approach to the farm with 150 hectares – the ‘economic zone’ to be managed by Mr McAlpine in sync with the rest of his grain and livestock enterprise, with all profits to be retained by him.

Approximately 30% of the land (98 hectares) was planted to perennial grazing shrubs in August 2017, with the aim of demonstrating the benefits of fodder forage shrubs as a sustainable source of livestock feed.

The long-term intention for this ‘combined’ zone is to return a profit to both the farmer and investor, while successfully improving ecological returns through regenerative farming methods.

A third zone – ‘nature’ – will be the site of a revegetation program to provide valuable habitat for native flora and fauna species.

‘As a farmer, the opportunity to move to a regenerative farming model is exciting, but we needed to unlock some capital to provide sufficient investment into it’, said Mr McAlpine.

‘This approach allows us to keep managing the land, with the resources we need to make significant changes and demonstrate the benefits of a better way of farming’.

Sources: ABC, Wide Open Agriculture

30 May

Unbreakable: Managing Workplace Stress in Agriculture and Agribusiness

Described by the World Health Organisation as the global health epidemic of the 21st century, workplace stress is a critical issue requiring both proactive and reactive management strategies by employers.

Image: The Unbreakable Farmer Warren Davies says proactively managing workplace stress is the best way to prevent it occurring. Image supplied.

DESPITE AGRICULTURE’S $60 billion a year contribution to the Australian economy, the rate of suicide among farmers is still 1.6 times the general population. With agriculture and agribusiness subject to volatile external pressures such as weather and markets, employees are at a higher risk of becoming stressed.

According to resilience expert Warren Davies, there are many causes of workplace stress, but some are unique to the sector.

‘In agriculture and agribusiness, stress can come from pressures higher up in the hierarchy, or from external forces such as the bank, weather, seasonal uncertainty or livestock health’.

‘But being left in the dark is one factor that can induce stress – and it’s one which farm and business managers often overlook’ he said.

Davies warns that transparency is key in preventing employees from being at risk of developing stress-related symptoms.

‘Keep all employees in the picture with regular staff meetings and make sure that all staff have a really clear idea about the tasks they each have to do’.

Not only does this approach help keep staff focussed and accountable, but it helps to reduce the pressure on managerial staff too.

‘In my previous role as a dairy manager, this helped to relieve some of my stress as I had more confidence that my staff knew what to do’.

‘The Unbreakable Farmer’

At 22, Davies bought his own dairy farm, fulfilling an almost lifelong desire to be a farmer. Then the harsh realities of being a primary producer set in and a constant battle with high-interest rates, low milk prices, extreme weather events forced him into a downward spiral of stress and depression.

After 16 years of operation, Davies was forced to walk off his farm, leaving his young family without a home or an income.

Dealing with an identity crisis and feelings of guilt and failure, Davies occupied himself by reading anything he could find on the importance of resilience, persistence and determination.

His journey led him to a new career as a keynote speaker and mental health advocate under the brand of The Unbreakable Farmer. He now shares his story with audiences as a way to raise awareness of the impact stress and mental health issues have on agricultural and rural communities.

The Unbreakable Farmer’s Tips for Employers – Preventing Workplace Stress

  • Identifying the signs of stress – ‘Stress can manifest itself in several different ways – physical emotional and behavioural. It can be tiredness, sickness, fatigue, anger, frustration or difficulty controlling emotions – so it’s important to be able to recognise the signs so you can have an open discussion with that staff member’.
  • Have a proactive management approach – ‘Have regular staff meetings and keep your team informed. Explain why every task is important and what the implications are if something is not done. Make sure that all staff have a position description and that they fully understand what it entails’.
  • Develop a resilient team – ‘Everyone is born with a certain amount of resilience, increasing that resilience muscle is done by exposing a person to small amounts of stress so they begin to build confidence that they can bounce back. It’s also important to know that everyone has a different resilience threshold – some people thrive on deadlines, but the same amount of pressure could be damaging’.

Sources: HRM Magazine, The Guardian.

30 Apr

Favourable Forecast: A Good Year Predicted for Australian Agriculture

A bumper year for wool and wine exports is being driven by continued growth by the Chinese market. Image by Stefano Lubiana under a CC2.0 license.

Improving global markets and increasing wealth amongst Asian populations is set to continue positive growth in Australian Agriculture in 2018.

At the top of the charts are Australian wine and wool exports, which are set to enjoy the biggest increase in demand.

“A key standout for us is the wine industry which we expect to have its best year for many years in 2018,” said Tim Hunt, who wrote Rabobank’s Agribusiness Outlook 2018 report.

Wine exports increased by 15 per cent in 2017, worth $2.56 billion. In the same year, Australian agricultural exports to China increased by 63 per cent, valued at $848 million.

Chinese demand for wool resulted in wool prices rising to record prices, with a 70 per cent increase in exports.

Export buyer Scott Carmody predicts the demand for Australian wool will continue.

‘They are hungry for our wool clip we’ve got plenty of orders being written into prompt shipment … so we can only see the demand staying.”

Sector Round-Up 2018

Forecasts by sector, based on information from Rabobank’s Agribusiness Outlook 2018 report:

  • Wheat – a small price improvement is expected as demand increases and stocks decline
  • Barley – prices due to remain elevated as global stocks weaken
  • Dairy – trading conditions will be broadly attractive for dairy growers
  • Beef – growing domestic stocks and competition from other exporting countries will put downward pressure on Australian cattle prices
  • Sheepmeat – strong demand set to maintain strong prices
  • Sugar – the price of sugar is set to decline as the global sugar market returns to surplus
  • Cotton – price decline predicted for the second half of 2018
  • Wool – strong demand set to continue favourable prices
  • Wine – sector predicted to enjoy its best year in a long time
  • Horticulture – set to enjoy continuing growth on the back of overseas demand for high-quality fresh produce
  • Fertiliser – prices to remain flat due to oversupply

Potential Downsides

Of concern to farmers across Australia, is the dry conditions and lack of forecasted rain. The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting drier than average conditions for Southwest Australia and Western Victoria between May and July, in addition to the hotter than average autumn conditions experienced in March and April.

Other threats to agricultural profitability could come from geopolitical factors such as China withdrawing from lucrative trade agreements. China’s debt level could also be a concern – when addressed, it is forecast to impact interest rates, economic growth and currency value locally, with flow-on effects to trade partners.

Sources: ABC, ABC, Bureau of Meteorology

30 Apr

Mutton Dressed as Profit

New Profits from Old Sheep? Image from ‘Productive Sheep Husbandry’ from Internet Archive Book Images with no known copyright restrictions.

Dry aged mutton could be the next big thing in food thanks to a trial between farmers and chefs at the William Angliss Institute.

Led by Chef Dale Lyman, a team of Melbourne based researchers have been looking at ways to make mutton more appealing to consumers.

Using the age-old method of dry ageing, the team have discovered a way to make mutton more juicy and tender, while improving the flavour profile. Dry ageing – which is generally used on beef rather than lamb – is a process that dehydrates meat in a controlled environment over the course of weeks or months.

Mr Lyman has been surprised by the results that dry ageing has had upon mutton – traditionally a cheap, undesirable cut.

‘The shoulder cooks beautifully as a braise. The forequarter, the loin, some of the other cuts like the rump are good for long, slow cooking. The mince is fantastic,” he said

“It has huge potential. I think it may be slow to begin with, but once chefs get the product and figure out the best way to cook with it, it’ll go gangbusters.”

His experiences echo those of a 2016 study by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) that found that dry aged mutton was more favourable than standard wet aged lamb based on taste.

University of Melbourne researcher Hollis Ashman says it’s the complexity of the flavours as well as the strong buttery taste that make aged mutton so appealing.

“[Dry aged mutton] becomes almost like chocolate, so think of it as the chocolate of meats,” she said.

“A crust grows on the outside of the meat as it ages, and the inside of the meat becomes very tender and juicy. It tastes really good.”

Potential for the Industry

While Australians are typically mad for lamb products, it may be a little harder to convince consumers of the benefits of dry aged mutton. Because of the lack of interest in cheaper lamb cuts, most domestically raised mutton is currently shipped overseas.

The upside, however, is a boost to the sustainability of the sheep enterprises as the value of older ewes increases.

“I was talking to a producer the other day — it’s a big company with 100,000 ewes — and they are culling 5 percent of their ewes every year, which is a routine practice,” said Professor Robyn Warner from Melbourne University.

Another roadblock is the capability of the supply chain to integrate the dry ageing process into current processing models.

While most abattoirs have the facilities to age meat for a week, mutton requires at least a month.

If the issue can be resolved, WA Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development senior research office Robin Jacobs estimates it could double the price farmers are paid for mutton.

‘There are some challenges there with how to do it commercially, but certainly there is lots of interest both from producers and consumers who have tried it in these restaurants”, she said.

Ms Jacobs said it would also fill a price gap in the lamb market.

“Lamb in a dinner occasion is about $35 for a main, whereas dry aged sheep would be about $25 to $28 a plate.”

Sources: ABC

30 Apr

Pressure Mounts: Global Activism Continues to Threaten Live Exports

The Australian live export industry is experiencing increasing pressure from animal activists and politicians since it was discovered that 2400 sheep died upon the ship Alwassi. Image by Shpernik088 from Wikimedia reproduced under an Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The increasing voice of animal activists continues to mount pressure upon the Australian live export trade, with several protests held over the last week.

Around 80 protestors gathered at Port Adelaide in South Australia last Friday as the ship Bader III was loaded with cattle, bound for the Middle East.

According to an ABC report, the ship is due to transport the first load of sheep to the Middle East since damning footage of dying sheep aboard the ship Awassi was released last year.

Protestors gathered in Israel over the weekend to march against the departure of a ship operated by the same export carrier as the Awassi. Animals Australia had organised a protest at Fremantle, from where the ship was due to depart.

Israeli protestors have the support and backing of Israel’s First Lady Sara Netenyahu, who is pressuring her husband and the Minister of Agriculture to intervene.

Mr Ariel responded by expressing his concern with Minister for Agriculture and Resources, David Littleproud.

“I explained that there was an intention to significantly reduce the transport of livestock from Australia to Israel,” Ariel wrote.

“I cannot interfere with a delivery while outside the territorial waters of Israel, but there will be an Israel intervention on animal welfare as soon as it reaches the territorial waters of the state of Israel.”

State of Play

While the Australian Government awaits the findings of several reviews commissioned, the Greens continue to call for an immediate ban on live exports, while labour favours an immediate suspension.

Federal backbencher Sussan Ley is planning a private member’s bill to “effectively phase out live sheep exports to the Middle East”, despite previously supporting the trade. Ley is now joined by Liberal MP Jason Woods who has expressed his position against the trans-shipment of livestock.

The Australian Live Exporters’ Council (ALEC) responded by announcing a new plan to strengthen on-board welfare standards including revisiting on-board stocking rates, more stringent monitoring and the use of independent on-board auditors.

For many opponents of the live export trade, the reforms are too little, too late.

“Every time there is a scandal, every time footage comes out from on board these ships, we’re told that the Government will do something to stop it, to clean it up,” said Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

“Excuse after excuse. We don’t need another review, we need the trade ended.”

According to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), the Australian Live Export industry is worth an estimated $1.8 billion a year, employing 13,000 workers across rural and regional Australia.

Sources: ABC, The Guardian, The Conversation, ALEC, MLA

30 Apr

Step Up: Australian Agriculture Needs to Tackle Future Skills Needs Head-On

While Australian agriculture faces an exciting period of growth, an ageing workforce and skills shortages need to be addressed. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Growing international demand for Australian food, changing food trends and an ageing agricultural workforce will have a significant impact upon the pool of available workers unless the industry finds innovative ways to train, attract and retain workers.

That’s according to the draft 2018-2021 Agriculture, Horticulture, Conservation and Land Management IRC Skills Forecast, recently released for industry feedback.

The report – which identifies industry skills gaps, future skills needs and required training and qualifications – will be lodged with the Australian Industry and Skills Commission to inform the development of training packages in line with sector needs.

The resource outlines the pressures facing a growing agriculture industry including increasing global demand for Australian food with two-thirds of all agricultural produce now exported overseas. Emerging food trends and the potential for medicinal crops are also creating new opportunities for Australian agriculture and agribusinesses.

While the demand side looks rosy, a shortage of skilled labour could hamper the industry’s ability to capitalise on the opportunities. Approximately 23% of the agricultural workforce is likely to retire over the next five years. The industry is dominated by roles with specific skill sets that are generally not easily transferred to other sectors. Finding labour for seasonal work such as fruit packing is notoriously difficult, and unlikely to improve without significant government policy change.

“A significant number of the industry’s workforce occupy roles that are unique and specific to the relevant sub-sectors, such as livestock and crop farmers, farm workers, shearers, agricultural and horticultural plant operators, nurserypersons and other nursery workers, and gardeners. A significant proportion of the workforce is also employed to undertake more general roles, such as clerical and administrative work” – IRC Skills Forecast and Proposed Schedule of Work 2018-2021.

The report identifies ‘priority skill sets’ including such as integrated pest management, robotics and precision agriculture, carbon farming, product innovation and medicinal crops as drivers for changes to the relevant training packages in order to meet future industry needs.

DIY Skilled Workforce: US Developer Implores Employers to Take Control of Developing Staff

An open letter on LinkedIn has sparked conversation about the need for employers to tackle skills shortages head on.

Kim Arnett, a US-based software developer, used her post to reprimand employers for not being more involved in future-proofing their workforce through a lack of entry-level positions.

“But, we have a problem here. You see, there are NO entry-level jobs and internships are also fading. Why? I’m not sure. I’m also not sure what’s going to happen to the senior developer market pool in the coming years if no one is entering that pool due to lack of entry-level positions and experience now.”

The post, which has since been ‘liked’ 1204 times, argues that the black hole of skilled workers could be solved by hiring and training unskilled workers.

“Start a training program; add internships and entry-level positions to help fill the gap. People are here, give them a chance.”

Sources: Skills Impact, LinkedIn

29 Mar

Nuts about Fruit: Asian demand to drive Australian horticulture growth

Image: Premium quality fruit has placed Australian on the front foot of growing demand by Asian consumers. Image from pxhere, published under CCO 1.0 agreement.

A forecasted medium-term boom for the horticulture sector will be driven by growth in the nut and fruit sectors, according to the latest ABARES outlook report.

The gross value of Australian horticultural production is projected to rise to $13.6 billion in 2022-23, an increase of more than $3 billion from current values.

In the last few decades, Chinese demand for fruit has skyrocketed in line with a growing, more affluent middle class, with the perception of Australia as a supplier of ‘clean and green’ food cementing the trade relationship.

A new trade agreement has further improved access to the Chinese market for local growers, adding peaches, apricots and plums to the list of tradable produce. The 2017 agreement also relaxed fumigation and cold-treatment protocols for table grapes and recognised pest-free regions for citrus and cherries.

Australia’s booming nut industry is also set to be a key contributor to overall industry growth. The real gross value of Australian tree nut production is projected to increase from $1 billion currently, to $1.5 billion in 2022-23.

Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts account for the biggest slice of sector growth. Since 2010, Australian almond and macadamia growers have capitalised on increasing global demand for nuts, with the low Australian dollar providing excellent price competitiveness.

As countries including China, South Africa, Turkey and the United States ramp up production of tree nuts, it is expected that Australian prices will fall over the medium term.

Opportunity knocks

Demand increases driven by volume and produce range led north Queensland grower Marc Magro to expand production on his 100 hectare irrigated fruit farm ‘Springmount’, west of Mareeba.

He predominantly grows longans – and their better-known cousins lychees – and has recently invested in four new varieties of lychees bred in China.

His produce appeals to the domestic Asia-Australian population and Chinese export market.

‘There’s only about a dozen longan growers in Australia so it’s a relatively new industry but I think the potential market is huge,’ said Mr Magro.

‘I love growing fruit for people to enjoy, and with longans selling locally in shops for $12 to $15 a kilogram, it can be quite a profitable crop too.’

Mr Magro’s sentiment is shared by Harry Debney, CEO of Costa – Australia’s largest fruit producer.

In 2017 the Costa group recorded a 98,000 tonnes citrus crop, of which 75% was sold overseas. In 2015, less than half of Costa’s produce was sold offshore.

‘Australian horticulture is still constrained by high labour costs, but we can compete overseas because of the quality of our fruit, reliability of supply and increasing automation in farm industries such as citrus,’ he said.

Sources: ABARES, The Australian

29 Mar

Breaking: New Zealand Government Orders 22,000 Cow Cull

Image: Mycoplasma bovis is a highly contagious disease affecting dairy cows worldwide. Rotary Milking Parlor by Gunnar Richter published under a BY-SA 3.0 attribution.

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has called for a cull of all cows on 28 properties on the South Island, in a response to an outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis.

The disease was initially detected late last year, with seven farms having already been ‘depopulated’, according to MPI’s response director Geoff Gwyn.

“[After the initial cull] we halted further culling until we better understood the spread of the disease. We are now at that point where we have that understanding and can complete this work with confidence,” he said.

This week, the MPI announced that a total of 28 farms have been classified as infected properties, will a collective herd of 22,000 cows to be culled.

“This will be a big job and won’t happen overnight, but we’ll be meeting with the affected farmers in the coming days to discuss the operation, develop the plans and talk through compensation,” said Mr Gwyn.

New Zealand’s dairy herd currently stands at 20 million cows. A small spike in heifer prices is foreseen as affected farmers restock their farms. The estimated cost of the current outbreak has been valued at $60 million.

About the Disease

Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that affects cattle by inducing diseases including mastitis, arthritis, pneumonia, bovine respiratory disease and ultimately death.

As well as the impact upon the cow, the effects of these diseases cause significant production losses through a lack of milk. The bacterium itself is resistant to antibiotics, seriously limiting treatment options. Although highly contagious amongst cattle, some cows can carry the bacteria but do not contract the disease – often the source of transmission between herds when cows are moved.

Mycoplasma bovis cannot be contracted by humans and does not present a food safety risk.

Mycoplasma bovis down under

While Mycoplasma bovis does infect a limited number of Australian dairy herds, the local industry decided to manage the disease, rather than total eradication.

“The latest estimates are that it affects about 0.6 per cent of Australia’s dairy herd,” said Associate Professor John House from the University of Sydney.

“It would be extremely expensive to pursue eradication (in Australia) at this point. We’re more focused on learning more about it, and educating farmers and dairy farmers and advisers on what to look for”.

“When people don’t know what to look for, that is how it spreads, and that’s the expensive part because you have to end up culling more stock,” he said.

Sources: ABC, Yahoo, Ministry for Primary Industries


29 Mar

Good Luck Strikes: Eyre Peninsula Grain Port Project Announced

Image: An artist’s impression of the proposed Lucky Bay grain port.

The tiny town of Lucky Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula will house a brand new grain port valued at $115 million, thanks to the State’s first farmer and private equity partnership.

Consortium T-Ports raised $96 million in private investor equity for the project that includes port infrastructure and supply chain components.

The Lucky Bay shallow harbour port will be used to transport grain to deep-water vessels further out at sea. The project also includes funding for 430,000 tonnes of grain storage at the port and a further 150,000 tonnes of storage at Lock.

A transhipment vessel – with the capacity to hold 3,500 tonnes of grain – is currently being built in China. The state of the art vessel will be used to load Panamax vessels out at sea and within the usual five-day industry standard.

Local grain growers were consulted during an expression of interest phase last year, with 120 growers indicating their support for the project. These growers will acquire equity in the port for ongoing throughput over the next seven years, with 377,000 tonnes forecasted to be processed through the port’s facilities.

In addition to improved grain prices through increased local supply chain competition, growers are expected to save between $5 and $20/tonne on grain transport costs, depending upon the distance from farm to port.

The facility will also open up opportunities for fertiliser to be delivered to Lucky Bay, representing savings of between $25 and $40/tonne for farmers currently purchasing from Port Lincoln and Adelaide.

Construction work will start immediately, with a promise by T-Ports that it will be ready and open to receive grain for the coming 2018/2019 harvest.

Grower Support for the ‘Game Changer’

Grain Grower Isaac Gill from Mangalo said the development of the report would help to make harvest logistics easier, as well as boosting profitability.

“It’s fantastic because we are going to save off our bottom line extra freight which we have been doing down at Port Lincoln and we can’t often deliver straight to port at harvest time’.

‘Now we will be able to deliver it straight off the header, straight out of the paddock and straight to port and it could be saving us around $15 a tonne’, he said.

‘It will be a real game changer for a lot of growers in our area’.

Sources: Port Lincoln Times, ABC,

29 Mar

Queensland Scheme Seeks to Address Ag’s Labour Shortage

Image: Corn in my side – A lack of available labour is an issue for many sectors of agriculture. Image by USDA, available at Flickr through a CC-BY 2.0 agreement.

A pilot program kicked off in Queensland earlier this month, with the aim of connecting job seekers with potential employers in an attempt to fill agricultural labour shortages.

After participating in an induction and training day, a group of job seekers was taken on a tour of Rugby Farms and Withcott Seedlings, two of the biggest agricultural enterprises in the Lockyer Valley.

The tour provided an opportunity for the job seekers to gain an insight into the operational activities involved, meet key staff members and understand the type of jobs available.

The tour also provided the opportunity for the two enterprises to identify potential employees – all refugees – many of whom have relevant experience for employment in agriculture.

‘The majority of people (on the tour) have come from rural backgrounds and farms and some owned their own farms and machinery companies. It’s about connecting that experience (to those looking for job seekers),’ said Karen George, a project manager from the Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network (QAWN).

While this particular cohort was made up of refugees, there are plans to extend the program to other target groups including students, and older people.

Labour shortage stifles industry growth

The labour shortage in agriculture is a significant factor limiting productivity and profitability, to the tune of $150 million a year according to report by AgForce Queensland.

The 2012 report estimated that the industry needed to find at least 96,000 full-time skilled workers and 10,000 casual workers to address the issue.

Several government schemes have attempted to address casual labour issues including the Seasonal Worker Incentives Trial, which allowed workers to earn an on-farm income without a penalty to existing welfare payments, as well as travel and living away from home allowances.

Despite the hype, the trial was grossly undersubscribed with initial enrolment numbers as low as 14 workers – only 0.37% of the 3,800 placements available. The Australian Government pledged $30million of funding for the two-year trial, which commenced in 2017.

Many employers cited the unwillingness of Australians to pick crops as a key reason for the failure of schemes such as the Seasonal Worker Incentives Trial.

‘We employ Australians wherever we can get them, but for us it has been very hard to get Australians to come and do this work outside,’ said Andrew Findlay – stone fruit grower from Southern Queensland.

The issue has driven many employers to call for changes to current visa programs to make it easier to employ overseas workers.

‘Seasonal work would be a focus, the sort of stuff that is being covered off by [other visa programs]’ said Ben Rogers, workplace relations general manager for the National Farmers Federation (NFF).

‘But it would be a broad approach to comprehensively address that very significant labour need within the industry,’ he said.

Sources: The Age, ABC, The Gatton Star

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