KPMG: Agricultural sector may need Asian workers

Date: Apr 16, 2012

Migration lawyers may find themselves dealing with more applications from Asian workers over the coming years, as the Australian agricultural sector starts to suffer.

This is according to a KPMG report, which established that a shortage of knowledge and skills will start to cause problems in the industry.

The issue has arisen due to the aging population of workers; it identified that half of Australia's farming workforce could retire at any point over the next ten years.

Last year, the age of the average farmer was 56, with many of them failing to have any sort of exit strategy in place to ensure their work continues after retirement.

Problems also arise for those who decide to carry on working until later in life - KPMG indicated that older farmers will be less productive and energetic than their younger counterparts, as well as psychologically unprepared for the tasks ahead.

Migrant workers will be in such high demand because younger people within Australia are increasingly likely to move to large cities in search of higher-earning jobs and work in other sectors.

KPMG found that many of the investors who are interested in entering the agricultural sector are Asian - this is a business model that may need to be adopted over the coming years to keep the industry alive.

The report stated: "In the long term, agricultural skills gaps will inevitably lead to the need to source labour from overseas migration.

"Asia will be an important contributor to bridging the skills gap and Australia will need to develop immigration policies with Asian countries to bridge this shortage."

Some other changes may also need to be implemented, as temporary visas issued for agricultural labour have already been introduced in some sectors, including horticultural crops.

KPMG recommends that wages for agricultural workers need to be improved, as they are currently low compared to other lucrative sectors such as mining.

As a result, retention rates are low and people do not get the opportunity to enhance their skills, leading the group to suggest that the mining industry may need to collaborate with agribusiness for improvements to be made.

In turn, this could give a much needed boost to some populations in rural areas.

Migration from countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development may be particularly strong at the moment, as latest figures show that unemployment stands at 8.2 per cent.

This rate has remained broadly flat since January 2011, potentially encouraging people to seek opportunities from overseas.