Australian horticultural farm output levels have remained steady despite an eight percent drop in the number of workers employed on farms, research has shown. The Labor use in Australian agriculture: Analysis of survey results report has found improved growing conditions and farm-level adaptations have countered the reduced availability of overseas labor during Covid-19.
Executive Director Jared Greenville of the Australian Department of agriculture, water, and the environment (ABARES) said the effects of Covid-19 on the Australian agricultural workforce have been most directly felt in the horticulture sector.
“The number of workers used by horticultural farms declined by 11,100 from 2019–20 to 2020–21, mainly due to fewer seasonal Working Holiday Makers,” Dr. Greenville said.
“Despite this, overall horticulture output levels are estimated to have remained relatively steady, partly due to an improvement in seasonal conditions. Output has also been maintained through a range of adaptations that many horticulture producers made in response to the reduced availability of overseas labor. These included increasing the hours worked by the existing workforce, altering production systems, and by employing more Australians and overseas residents already in Australia — incentivized by government labor market initiatives.
“ABARES September quarter horticulture market analysis found retail prices for fruit and vegetables increased beyond the levels typically seen at that time of year, indicating supply may be lower than usual or increased costs of labor are being passed through to consumers.
“Horticulture farms employed around 135,100 workers on average over the course of 2020–21, including family, permanent, and contract employees.
“Total farm labor use varied from a low of around 126,000 workers in Winter and early Spring to a peak of 146,300 workers in Summer and early Autumn.”
By visiting Labor use in Australian agriculture: Analysis of survey results, users can select from a range of region and industry options to observe trends in labor use in 2018–19, 2019–20, and 2020–21, and the profile of the agricultural labor force in those years.
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Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment (ABARES)