Demand for labour on Australian farms has undergone substantial change over the past decade. The number of owner–managers and contributing family workers on family farms has declined as the number of farms has declined and the average size of farms has increased. At the same time, the number of employees across the agricultural sector has increased. The number of overseas workers, particularly in horticultural industries as seasonal labour, has also increased.

To improve understanding of agricultural industries’ workforce, ABARES developed a series of farm labour surveys. This report uses data from these surveys to provide an in-depth profile of labour demand, recruitment difficulties and future challenges. The surveys covered the vegetable industry across all states and irrigated fruit and nut farms in the southern Murray– Darling Basin in 2016–17, and the broadacre and dairy industries across all states in 2017–18. In aggregate these industries account for 74% of total Australian agricultural sector employment.

Funding was announced in the May 2018 budget allowing ABARES to conduct a more comprehensive and ongoing collection and analysis of data on agricultural labour. This includes expansion of the surveys in 2019 and projects exploring how the agricultural labour force has changed and factors affecting likely future supply and demand. Results from this work will be available later in the year.

Key findings:

  • Horticultural farms use large numbers of low-skilled workers from overseas
  • Rates of recruitment relatively low and concentrated on labourers
  • Few horticultural farms had difficulty recruiting
  • Farms had more difficulty recruiting skilled positions
  • Location affected recruitment difficulty
  • Future labour needs and challenges may change as farm sizes grow
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