Researchers say Australia’s agricultural workforce is grossly undervalued, with the number of employees contributing to the economy potentially double what was previously thought.
- Australia’s agricultural workforce has been underestimated by nearly 6,000 jobs
- The researchers found that the census only covered ‘on-farm’ workers
- New data shows there are more college-educated, versatile and younger workers in the sector
New data released by the University of New England (UNE) reveals that the most recent census only included agricultural workers if they worked ‘on the farm’.
According to the new study, the census overlooked other professions such as agronomists, lawyers and agricultural accountants.
UNE Agribusiness speaker Lucie Newsome said the workforce was made up of nearly 14,000 people – around half of which had not previously been counted.
“We have now looked at other jobs in the value chain,” Dr Newsome said.
It was believed that three percent of the agricultural industry had college or higher education.
With the addition of professional jobs, this figure rose to 16%, with the majority using business management skills.
The study also revealed that the industry was underserved by more than 20%.
“If we now include these other professions, we can see that many people are educated or skilled in agriculture but are now working outside of industry,” Dr Newsome said.
Forty percent of the 13,390 people in the sector did not work exclusively in agriculture, but nevertheless made important contributions to it.
Women also made up more than half of agricultural science graduates, but only about 30% held professional agricultural jobs.
“We found that women who were previously employed in the agriculture industry have gone into their own businesses,” she said.
The average age of 49 has also dropped to 40-44.
“I think going forward in our research, I’d like to know if it’s because a lot of workers now need to diversify and get off-farm income,” Dr Newsome said.
Students seek stability
The study came as no surprise to Clint Gallagher of the Farrer Agricultural Memorial School.
The headmaster of Tamworth said a stable income was the top priority, with many students entering higher education while working in commerce or agricultural careers.
“There are businesses like a butcher in Dubbo that employ interns but support them through college,” Mr Gallagher said.
“It’s about attracting more money. Someone who wants to be a farm worker, he will go into specialties like artificial insemination, for example, to make himself more employable.”
Mr Gallagher said the program has also become more diverse, reflecting the industry.
“They need to diversify. They need to have a stable career in agriculture. That’s where education comes in.”
Farrer had also seen a significant increase in the number of employers reaching out to students.
“We’ve had accountants, law firms, banks, agronomists call us and want to send a student to college, work with them and keep them in the country,” Gallagher said.
“That would be 50-100% better than what I’ve seen in my 20 years working here.”
Along with the pandemic creating worker shortages, Mr Gallagher said other factors such as drought have also contributed to the increase in job vacancies.
“You had a drought in a lot of Australia, so other people went and got other jobs. Now they want them back.
“So maybe the industry is looking at how they can secure that workforce in the future.”