Cautious optimism on new Ag Visa

Horticulture sector says Ag Visa is a long-term solution

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Ag Visa is welcome news for hort sector.

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THE horticulture industry says a proposed Agricultural Visa is welcome, but it's a long term solution and unlikely to have an immediate impact.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the new visa would cover the ditching of the requirement for UK backpackers to spend time working in the agricultural sector.

The visa would be extended to all ten ASEAN nations and complement the Pacific Islander Seasonal Worker program.

"Pacific worker programs have and will continue to play a critical role in our agriculture sector, and the new visa arrangement will build on the success of these arrangements," Mr Littleproud said.

The Government would work to have the new visa in place before the end of the year.

Fruitgrowers Victoria business development officer Michael Crisera said the federal government initiative was positive.

"This is something that the industry has been pushing for, for quite a while," Mr Crisera said.

He said in the short term, the Pacific Islander scheme would be needed for the upcoming season.

"This next season is going to be challenging, purely because of COVID-19," he said.

"Backpackers are not going to be coming to Australia for some time, so I don't think we will have enough numbers for our next harvest."

He said the cherries and stonefruit seasons would start in November, with apples and pears running from mid-January.

Ausveg president and Lindenow grower Bill Bulmer welcomed the news.

"In a sense, it's about time everyone involved in horticulture and agriculture, as well as governments, realised farming is a business," Mr Bulmer said.

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"It's not just an area where we can have people coming to fill in gaps."

He said that had led to "issues of exploitation" in some areas, which had tarnished the entire industry.

"I am quite happy we don't have to rely on that group of people, who believe they need to go into regional areas to extend their time in this country," he said.

"They are not long term visitors who are going to be invested in agriculture or horticulture."

He said he hoped the new visa would ensure a competent, long-term, reliable workforce.

"The devil is in the detail and the conversation we have, further down the track," he said.

"'Bureaucracy is a slow-moving beast; it's not something we are going to see a resolution to, I believe, in the next six months.

'But it is positive and something we have been engaging with government for some years now - at least it's being steered in the right direction."

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said primary producers needed to see the details, particularly around the ASEAN proposal.

"It's not going to be a short term fix - probably in the next six months, I would think it might get worse before it gets better," Ms Germano said.

"It's certainly what we have been asking for, but we need to see what that looks like."

Mr Germano said it was also pleasing to see the Victorian Government extend its worker support programs.

Victorian agriculture minister Mary-Anne Thomas has announced the Government will extend its highly successful Seasonal Harvest Sign-On Bonus and quarantine pathway for Pacific workers to boost harvest workforces.

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Ms Germano said a lot of the ASEAN countries did not have pathways to send workers to Australia.

"It's also pleasing it's an agriculture specific visa because it means that when they are coming, they know they are working in agriculture."

Ms Germano said the sector would have to see if there were "pathways to permanency" out of the new visa.

"I'd also be interested to see if that gives us a mechanism to gives us status resolution, for some people who are already in the country," she said.

"We know a lot of workers have come in from Malaysia, and ended in labour hire, so hopefully now there is a legitimate pathway and we will see a reduction in the number of people seeking asylum."

Ausveg public affairs national manager Tyson Cattle said the ASEAN countries were some of Australia's closest trading partners

Extending the Agriculture Visa to those countries made economic sense and demonstrated a commitment in helping regional neighbours.

"What we need now is timely action to get this visa class up and running so that we can start bringing in workers as soon as possible when borders open up and international workers are able to enter the country," he said.

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The story Cautious optimism on new Ag Visa first appeared on Stock & Land.

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