AMID extraordinary fruit and vegetable supply chain issues and warnings that crops are at risk of rotting on fields, Nationals leader David Littleproud is blaming worker shortages through Labor's shift away from the Morrison-Joyce government's fledgling agriculture-specific visa program.
But talk of exacerbated labour shortages in the agriculture sector is roundly rejected by the new Albanese government, which is expanding the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme (PALM) to around 60,000 workers who, it advises, are ready to fly in from the Pacific.
Labor's version of the agriculture visa targets the Pacific Islands rather than South East Asia.
Extreme weather events such as wild rain, flooding and the ongoing cold snap have caused havoc for farmers, but the sector is also being hit by high energy prices, rising fertiliser and chemical outlay and wages costs.
Industry body Ausveg is warning of ongoing supply issues for up to 16 weeks with produce such as cucumbers, tomatoes and berries now earmarked for rapid and significant price increases.
Mr Littleproud, who is also the opposition's agriculture spokesman, said the Labor decision to cancel the Agricultural Visa is a problem for farmers, and therefore consumers.
"Short term has been from flooding, but long term there's a lack of investment confidence by the agricultural sector because they don't have the confidence that labour supply, which is the biggest long term constraint on the industry, is being addressed," he said.
"The big problem is every Australian is already seeing it.
"Every time they go to the checkout, and they look at that docket, they should see the Australian Labor Party at the top of it.
"Because they are now forcing farmers to make investment decisions not to plant, which means supply goes down, which means their prices go up, which is on their docket every time they go to the checkout."
But agriculture minister Murray Watt said labour shortages are just one of a number of causes of price rises.
"Like so many industries, agriculture is experiencing a massive workforce shortage," Mr Watt said.
"This is not a new problem and unfortunately it was left to fester by the Morrison government. David Littleproud spent years promising farmers big things with his ag visa proposal but it didn't deliver a single farm worker."
The first memorandum of understanding (MOU) under the ag visa program was only signed last March with Vietnam after long being a key demand of the Nationals.
No Vietnamese workers had arrived in the country before the election and the Labor party promised instead to establish a new agriculture stream within the existing PALM scheme.
The new government is moving to reduce upfront costs for employers, reduce red tape "without compromising worker protections" and allow long-term visa holders in the scheme to bring in partners and children, if sponsored by employers.
"We've had the availability of the Pacific scheme for well over 12 months now. And that's got competitive forces away from agriculture in other industries in the economy. And so it hasn't worked," Mr Littleproud said.
"It's an important part but we need more."
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