Not all apples: NFF angry at ABARES' rosy farm workforce outlook

NFF angry at ABARES' rosy outlook on farm workforce

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Farm lobby rubbishes federal agency report finding modest labour shortages in horticulture.

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THE National Farmers' Federation has reacted angrily to an ABARES' report which found that just 3.5 per cent of advertised farm work positions went unfilled.

The Demand for Farm Workers Survey covered the vegetable industry across all states and irrigated fruit and nut farms in the southern Murray- Darling Basin in 2016-17, and the broadacre and dairy industries across all states in 2017-18.

It found that just 700 of the 20,000 positions advertised by surveyed agribusinesses did not result in a workforce placement.

ABARES found that of survey respondents 40pc of broadacre farms reported difficulty recruiting while 48pc of dairy farmers, 8pc of vegetable farms and 14pc of fruit and nut farms also had issues.

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NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said the findings didn't tally with NFF's figures.

"The survey doesn't align with what farmers are saying," Mr Mahar said.

"We have strong reservations about the report as we know the farm labour shortage is most severe in horticulture and while it is still a serious problem, it is less so in the dairy and broadacre sectors."

ABARES found that vegetable and fruit and nut farms found workers for a higher proportion of vacancies than other businesses, with more than 99pc of vacancies filled in 2016-17, while businesses across the economy filled 9pc of vacancies on average in 2016-17.

Respondents to NFF's labour survey found 43pc of farmers experienced labour shortages during peak season, 23pc said they had a constant labour shortage, 21pc never experienced shortages, and 20pc of those surveyed estimated losses exceeding $50,000 a year.

"We are concerned that the findings are unhelpful in providing up-to-date data and positive steps that can be taken to deliver policies and initiatives to widen the farm workforce pool," Mr Mahar said.

"Currently agriculture's workforce deficit is one of the largest constraints to our sector's productivity growth and we need solutions for agriculture to reach its potential of being a $100 billion industry by 2030."

A report from the Australian Farm Institute published in June highlighted shortcomings in official statistics in agriculture, centring on ABARES.

"The problem of inconsistent or missing data and statistics is not only confined to niche issues or small sub-sectors of the industry but also extends to significant policy areas, such as increasing energy prices and climate change," AFI said in a statement at the time.

"The dearth of reliable and respected agricultural statistics is not a new issue and indeed gaps in official agricultural statistics have been commented on for many years."

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