As cropping season wraps up across the region, Wimmera farmers say they have pushed forward despite the border closure shutting off a supply of seasonal international workers.
Minimay farmer Ron Hawkins of Hawkins Booroopki farms has used a mixture of permanent workers and seasonal backpackers. The past year's harvest was more affected by the scarcity of international labour than this year's cropping season.
"We had a difficult harvest, we didn't recruit many during harvest. We had four overseas workers during the cropping," he said.
"Thankfully, our permanent staff were able to help carry the load; we appreciate the extra efforts of our permanent staff and contractors. They helped us through some difficult circumstances.
"It is going to be an ongoing problem because there is no one coming in. Until we get things on an even keel it is going to be difficult I think. We use a mix of both, overseas and local."
Mr Hawkins said his contractors had difficulties finding shearers, as many sheds rely on shearers from New Zealand.
"Rural labour is very difficult. Our shearing went on for a long time here because we didn't have enough people to go around," he said.
"New Zealand is a big part of the shearing around here. New Zealand workers normally shears about 30 per cent of the sheep and they were very scarce."
Mr Hawkins has on-site accommodation at his farm, which he said could be used to house up to 30 seasonal workers.
In 2020, the Victorian and federal government partnered to bring a seasonal workforce from the pacific islands to Australia to address a critical worker gap in the agriculture industry.
However, most of the workers brought in under the scheme were provided to horticulture farms.
Mr Hawkins said he believed alternatives should be explored to fast-track the arrival of skilled broad acre workers to the Wimmera.
"There should be a way, they are bringing other people in through quarantine. You'd think that if we used the right protocols, look after them and quarantine them, they can come in," he said.
"We have our own accommodation complex, and we can look after these people pretty well. We have a lodge and houses. With the right protocols, we could look after them.
"Quarantine them, whatever they want to do with them. We are pretty far out from any town - 90km from Horsham, 80km from Naracoorte. If we could recruit from overseas we could look after them."
Murra Warra farmer David Jochinke also struggled to find workers during the 2020's harvest. He said farmers had to face the decision of either taking longer to do their work or invest in larger machinery to make up for labour shortages.
"Horticulture is definitely where the hot spot is but it is bleeding over into other agricultural pursuits. The challenge is that we need to have reliable workers in the peak seasons," he said.
"The challenge is the backpacker trade has been a good source of labour for broad acre agriculture for many years, to be able to pick up an extra driver on the air seeder or other machinery for cropping. As well as during harvest for headers or chaser bins."
Mr Jochinke knew of skilled international workers who stayed in Victoria through 2020 but said the difficulty accessing health services in Australia made many make a move back.
He said it was often hard to find consistent workers during harvest and cropping seasons as many were not willing to be away from family for long periods at a time.
"Generally people have their roots down when they are living in Australia and they don't want to move away for four to six weeks. So getting them to shift away for that time is always a bit of a challenge," he said.
"There are a couple of things. Regional victoria needs to have incentives for people to move out here. We need to have taxation or policies that make regional areas more attractive than our urban centres.
"We need the population out here. Melbourne struggles with the population it has got, and we need the population to keep our services and grow our region.
"Whatever we can do to either focus on both getting people to move out here and then making it attractive to set up businesses in regional areas are two excellent policies that the government should be exploring."
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