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Not enough Australians want to work on farms



Yvonne Smith with packing shed manager Ian Oosthuizen at her Bowhill property, east of Adelaide. She says she has had to recruit from overseas for skilled workers. Picture: Kelly Barnes

ONION and carrot grower Yvonne Smith knows how hard it is to find highly skilled workers.

Ms Smith, 48, grows 85ha of onions and 30ha of carrots with her husband at Bowhill, on the Murray River east of Adelaide. 

The couple would like to expand their production, but the main factor slowing them down is a shortage of skilled help.

Ms Smith said the dearth of local workers had prompted her to recruit from overseas, with two of the couple’s full-time employees having permanently migrated from South Africa under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme.

“We, of course, looked locally first,” she said. “But, failing that, we started to look overseas. There just aren’t enough people in Australia that want to work on farms.”

A study by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency published yesterday found a dire shortage of skilled workers within the agricultural and food sector.

The AWPA food and beverage workforce study made 13 recommendations, finding there was a desperate need for a single national co-ordinating body representing industry, government, employee representatives and the tertiary education sector to provide leadership on skills and workforce development across the agrifood supply chain.

National Farmers Federation chief executive Matt Linnegar welcomed the report, which the NFF helped develop, saying it added weight to its calls for collaboration across the education and agricultural industries to build a sustainable skilled workforce.

Mr Linnegar said one of the NFF’s key concerns was a lack of robust data around the workforce-development needs of agriculture, and he hoped that a new national co-ordinating body would work to build a workforce profile for the sector so solutions could be found to skill shortages.

Ms Smith said she was looking overseas again to fill another farm role, having failed to find someone locally.

“One thing I’m concerned about is that some of the skills we need on farms aren’t met by the skilled migration list. We need someone who’s had a lot of experience farming, who has those skills, not necessarily someone who has a qualification on paper, but it’s very difficult to prove to the Immigration Department that someone has those skills.”


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