Recruitment: Has ag seen the worst of the labour shortage?

Eric Barker, March 10, 2023

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WITH people moving around the world again after more than two years of COVID restrictions, could light be starting to appear on agriculture’s labour shortage?

The subject was brought up multiple times at a forum held by Argus Media in Toowoomba last month – with lotfeeders and market analysts making presentations.

One of the most optimistic takes came from Camm Agricultural Group’s Bryce Camm, who is a newly elected member of Cattle Australia. He said the industry had likely seen the worst of the labour shortage.

Bryce Camm

“For our own business and recruitment, I think the labour situation is already starting to change,” Mr Camm said.

“There were points through last year where you would run an ad for a stocky and you would have no one apply, which was frightening. Whereas now we are filling those jobs a lot easier and there seems to be more workers in the market.”

“I think with borders opening back up, backpackers are coming in again and filling some of those gaps that some people require. I feel we are past the worst of it.”

Wages likely to increase

However, employers still appear to be struggling to fill their rosters. Mort & Co livestock manager Brett Campbell who said he was expecting the labour shortage to continue for the foreseeable future.

“It is going to be tough, there is no wall of people coming to do our work – I think we will still be short of people at the end of this year,” Mr Cambpell said.

Brett Campbell

“Between offshore labour and skilled trades coming in through the Pacific Island scheme or other visa programs, it will take a multi-pronged approach to fix the issue.”

Mr Campbell said the wages bill for agricultural companies was likely to keep increasing.

“We have recently gone through quite a substantial pay rise and I can see we are going to pay more money in the future,” he said.

“We are competing with other industries who are paying $40-$50 per hour for unskilled labour, when we are looking at high $20s in cases. We have to remain competitive in that labour space, which is going to be an ongoing challenge.”

Processing capacity hinges on labour

With more cattle expecting to reaching processing plants this year, Meat & Livestock Australia is predicting slaughter to rise from 5.85m to 6.6m this year. However, senior market information analyst Ripley Atkinson said if the labour situation was not rectified, slaughter could be as low as 6m.

“When we had our consultation with processors, they told us that if they can’t address this labour issue it will drop that number considerably,” Mr Atkinson said.

“We have provided those two forecasts to demonstrate how significant this labour concern is and will be. It is going to have an overt effect on the sector if labour can’t be addressed in the processing plants.”

Mr Atkinson said while some programs were easing the situation, MLA was still expecting labour to be an issue for the remainder of this year.

“There has been the seen the expansion of the Pacific Island labour scheme (PALM) into some of the more metro-located plants,” he said.

“When you look at some of the data and the expectation around improvement of migration numbers after two years of virtually nothing, there is some hope.

“Labour to be the key determinant of how much beef we produce in the medium-term.”




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