Oz Horticulture production steady in 2021

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Australia’s fruit and vegetable yield has held despite a significant fall in worker numbers, according to ABARES research

Oz Horticulture production steady in 2021
Despite a shortage of labour, yields have remained steady


The output of Australian horticulture farms has remained steady despite the ongoing labour shortage facing the sector, research from the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Research Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has found.

As noted in the Labour use in Australian agriculture: Analysis of survey results report, the reduced availability of overseas labour due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an eight per cent drop in horticulture worker numbers.

However, improved growing conditions and adaptations made at the farm level have helped the horticulture sector steady its output.

ABARES executive director Jared Greenville says the impact of COVID-19 on the agricultural workforce in Australia has been felt most directly in horticulture.

"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," says Greenville.

"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 labour."

These adaptations include an increase in the number of hours worked by the existing workforce and altering production systems.

Horticulture producers have also employed more Australian and overseas residents who had already been in Australia – something which has been further incentivised by government and labour market initiatives.

This said, Greenville adds that ABARES market analysis indicates retail prices for fruit and vegetables have increased beyond the levels typically seen during the September quarter, indicating either supplies are lower, or that the increased costs of labour are being passed onto consumers.

"Horticulture farms used around 135,100 workers on average over the course of 2020–21, including family, permanent and contract employees," says Greenville.

"Total farm labour 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."

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