PLEASED: Anthony Staatz, Koala Farms, Lake Clarendon.
PLEASED: Anthony Staatz, Koala Farms, Lake Clarendon. ALI KUCHEL

Agriculture visa to fix critical labour shortage

LETTUCE grower Anthony Staatz wants the newly announced agriculture visa for mid- to long-term overseas workers fast tracked to aid the region's critical labour shortage.

At Koala Farms in Lake Clarendon, Mr Staatz has six full-time, moderately skilled positions available to suit machine operators and team leaders that cannot be filled by backpackers.

The lack of interest from locals not wanting to take on the positions makes it more challenging.

The announcement of a new visa category for overseas farm workers, made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the National Farmers' Federation Congress on Thursday, was welcome news to Mr Staatz.

Mr Morrison said the agriculture visa would not solve the upcoming harvest because an agricultural visa could not be introduced overnight.

He wanted to ensure changes were targeted to areas where there were labour shortages.

"If it's not, you know what we will end up doing, we relax the visas and we get more Uber drivers in Melbourne," he said.

"That's not getting any fruit off trees anywhere, so it must be targeted."

With multiple vacancies on offer, Mr Staatz wanted the visa proposal fast tracked to assist the critical labour shortages in the Lockyer Valley and Australia.

"Australia is perceived as being the lucky country, and there are plenty of skilled people (overseas) that would give their teeth to come and work in a horticulture business in Australia," Mr Staatz said.

"Especially if they come from a place that does not have a lot of opportunities."

The Lockyer Valley horticulture industry produced $285 million in 2015-16, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an amount Mr Staatz believes could drastically reduce if appropriate labour skills are not found.

"The limiting factor in our business is finding enough skilled labour and if we don't address that issue our horticulture industry will lose its competitiveness internationally," he said.

For the past year, the NFF has been lobbying for an agricultural visa to address a gap of 100,000 workers in the agricultural industry.

The announcement was welcomed by NFF president Fiona Simpson, who said Australians must be given priority.

"Right now farmers across the country are struggling to find the pickers and packers needed to harvest and prepare their summer crop for market," she said.

"The inability to source adequate labour, is an indisputable constraint on our vision for agriculture to achieve a farmgate output value of $100 billion by 2030."

Growers are encouraged to register vacant jobs with the National Harvest Labour Information Service along with the required information such as start dates, length of employment and salaries.

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