New data shows farmers will walk away if worker access is further eroded

Farmers are warning they will change what they grow or even walk away from farming if their access to overseas workers is reduced, new data from the National Farmers’ Federation has revealed.

A survey of farmers from nearly every commodity across the country comes as visa fee rises and changes to the UK backpacker rules loom over the industry and latest data shows farmers are abandoning the PALM Scheme.

NFF President David Jochinke said the Federal Government’s panacea to agriculture’s workforce woes, the PALM Scheme, appears to be faltering with data Department of Employment and Work Relations data showing an 11 per cent fall in the number of PALM workers employed in agriculture in the six months to January.

“With the Government piling on red tape to access the PALM Scheme, farmers are turning to other sources for workers, making backpackers an even more critical part of the agricultural workforce than ever before,” Mr Jochinke said.

The survey showed a third of the farm workforce was backpackers during busy harvest periods.

“From July 1 British backpackers will no longer be required to work in regional areas and adding more salt to the wound is visa fees will jump 25 per cent, making Australia one of the most expensive countries in the world for backpackers to visit.

“It is clear any further eroding the 88-day requirement for backpackers to work on farms will have major ramifications for producers, with 35 per cent of farmers saying it would have a ‘catastrophic’ impact.

“Alarmingly, farmers are warning if access to backpackers is eroded further it will mean increases in food prices, a fatiguing workforce and, in the worst case, farmers walking away from the industry.

“More than half of farmers surveyed said they would consider switching commodities or leaving the industry altogether if access to workers was reduced.

“What it boils down to is less workers means less food and fibre and that pushes up the price for all Australians at the supermarket checkout.

“We need the Government to stop debilitating farmers’ access to overseas workers.

“If they’re not prepared to get serious about finding alternative pathways, they need to reinforce existing measures, rather than eroding and dismantling them.”

What the survey found

Approximately what percentage of your workforce are backpackers?

  • Average response: 33.37%
  • Median response: 25%

What impact will the phase-out of UK backpackers have on your business (0-10 scale)?

  • Catastrophic (8-10): 40%
  • Significant (5-7): 32%
  • Minor (1-4): 16%
  • Nil (0): 12%

What impact would removal of the ’88 day’ work incentive have on your business (0-10 scale)?

  • Catastrophic (8-10): 63%
  • Significant (5-7): 20%
  • Minor (1-4): 9%
  • Nil (0): 9%

Would you consider changing commodities or leaving the industry if access to workers was reduced?

  • Yes: 54%
  • No: 46%

/Public Release. View in full here.