Immigrant farmers vital to Australian agriculture, study shows

How migrant workers are critical to the future of Australia’s agricultural industry

Immigrant farmers and workers are contributing to the productivity of Australian agriculture. A RIRDC-funded study finds these workers bring new skills and overcome labour shortages in rural and regional Australia.

“This report provides an indication of the contribution that the increasing number of permanent and temporary immigrants to Australia has made to the productivity of our agricultural industry and the re-energising of regional and rural towns,” says RIRDC Managing Director John Harvey.

“The report is the culmination of a three-year research project. It fills a critical knowledge gap about the contribution of immigrant farmers – both permanent skilled settlers and short-term labourers.”

Professor Jock Collins, lead researcher, says “the research illustrates the many different levels at which immigrants play an important role.

“In terms of skilled labour, immigrant farmers bring not only experience but innovation and entrepreneurship in techniques and commodities. South African and Zimbabwean farmers for example, have brought water saving technologies, while Asian growers have introduced new products for the food market.

“Short-term workers are significant in filling cyclical labour needs. For example, working holiday-makers are a large and mobile workforce helping to meet demand at harvest and providing labour for unpopular jobs.”

While in the minority, unsatisfactory work experiences of some working holiday-makers and Pacific Seasonal Workers are captured in the report. Professor Collins says it is important these issues inform policy makers to ensure the future viability of such schemes and delivery of labour to rural and regional Australia.

The research found rural and regional townships very receptive to new immigrants. “The warmth of the welcome in the bush was clear,” Professor Collins says, “and the majority of workers come away with very positive social and economic experiences.”

The full report, titled ‘New Immigrants Improving Productivity in Australian Agriculture’ can be downloaded for free from here and a summary of the research can be found here.

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About the Author: Akhtar Jamal

Tribune International