Workforce shortages worsen and grower sentiment plummets one year on from Jobs & Skills Summit

One year after the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit, the crippling workforce shortages facing Australian vegetable growers have only worsened, and many growers are now reconsidering their future as vegetable producers.

An alarming sentiment survey conducted by AUSVEG, the vegetable peak industry body, has revealed record-low morale among Australian vegetable growers, with labor shortages, workforce policy and legislative changes, increased compliance, and rising operational costs as major factors forcing growers to contemplate their commercial viability.

Appearing at the Senate Inquiry on Food Security in early August, AUSVEG highlighted how increasing costs of production, tightening margins, and chronic labor shortages are making vegetable growers question their future in the sector, with more than 30 percent of Australian vegetable growers now considering leaving the industry within the next 12 months.

The survey also highlighted that:

  • 72 percent are currently experiencing workforce shortages.
  • 45 percent rate their future viability with current workforce shortages as ‘poor to very poor.’

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Jobs and Skills Summit on Friday, September 1, the issues raised by AUSVEG in Canberra around workforce availability have still not been addressed and are expected to deteriorate due to Labor’s recent policy changes that will narrow workforce options.

These new policies were a key concern highlighted by many growers in AUSVEG’s survey. The Working Holiday Maker program, PALM Scheme, and overseas student visas, which allow Australian farmers to fill critical labor shortages with overseas workers, have all undergone significant changes in recent months.

AUSVEG CEO Michael Coote said the dire survey results were not overly surprising given the significant challenges that growers had faced over recent years.

“We’re a year on from the Jobs and Skills Summit, and unfortunately, the only changes the Government has made in that time are making the problem worse, not better,” said Mr. Coote.

“Fire, drought, flood, rain, hail, labor shortages, volatile markets, biosecurity breaches, unprecedented cost increases to inputs, and many other issues can have detrimental impacts on farmers and rural communities.”

“The toll is showing on vegetable growers, and if even close to 30 percent of them move away from vegetable production, frequent fresh produce shortages will become the new norm, and Australian families will bear the brunt with higher prices for their produce.”

“While the Agriculture Minister is trying to work with industry, the Albanese Government has not acted on feedback from growers when they’re already being crushed by rising input costs, severe weather, and price pressure from the retailers, among other challenges.”

“Vegetable growers just want to be able to grow healthy produce and remain competitive in an increasingly complex business environment, but without an adequate supply of workers, there is a risk that fresh produce will not be planted and families will face higher food costs.”

AUSVEG is calling on the Federal Government to genuinely work with the vegetable industry on workforce policy reforms that uphold the highest standards of worker welfare while also meeting the needs of growers.

“The Australian vegetable sector is forecast to grow by at least an additional billion dollars in annual farm-gate value by 2030, but if we’re hamstrung by workforce availability, that potential to grow the Australian economy will be lost,” said Mr. Coote.

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