Expansion of Harvest Trail a step in right direction but more needed to sure-up farm workforce

The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed the start of the Federal Government’s expansion of Harvest Trail, a service which matches job seekers with farm jobs.

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said agriculture continued to be hampered by a workforce shortage and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on backpacker numbers and the movement of workers in general was adding to farmers’ angst ahead of this year’s harvest.

“Even before the challenges of COVID-19, research found that more than 40 per cent of farmers experienced workforce shortages during seasonal peaks.

“In particular the horticulture sector, but in general across the industry, farmers rely on short-term, unskilled workers to meet demand at peak times such as harvest.

“This year farmers are particularly concerned about a reduction in backpacker numbers, however they also see the opportunity for recently unemployed Australians to help fill the gap.”

Already a well-established service, Harvest Trail plays a critical role in matching people looking for farm work with jobs. In 2019-2020, Harvest Trail facilitated 23,000 farm work placements.

Mr Mahar said the expansion of Harvest Trail to 16 regions meant the service now encompassed all of the nation’s major horticulture centres.

“Farmers certainly have the work on offer and Harvest Trail, with the help of accredited labour hire organisations, can assist to match job seekers with farm jobs.

“Farm businesses and workers are managing through uncertain times. The NFF and our members are continually monitoring the available workforce as the peak harvest season unfolds.

“We’re calling on the Government to urgently prioritise strategies to address agriculture’s longstanding labour shortfall, this should include the introduction of an agriculture-specific visa, something the NFF has been advocating for for some years.”

As of July, labour hire organistaions delivering Harvest Trail services can claim 4 week, 12 week and 26 week outcomes for supporting Australian job seekers into harvest jobs.

Providers will match more seasonal work vacancies with Australian job seekers to meet peaks in demand across more harvest locations in Australia.

“Currently, an inability to access the workers they need is constraining the growth of Australia’s farm businesses. The NFF has a goal to increase agriculture’s available workforce by 25% by 2030.

“Providing clear pathways for Australians looking for farm work is key to achieving this target. The expansion of Harvest Trail, an established and highly successful platform, is one important pathway,” Mr Mahar said.

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