THE National Farmers Federation has called on the government to expand its focus when negotiating with partner countries for the Ag Visa, calling for at least 10 countries to be signed up within a year.
NFF has campaigned for the Ag Visa for the past five years and welcomed the government's commitment to the program, which was announced in September to much fanfare.
Last year, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud expected workers on the visa to be on farms by Christmas. Once that deadline passed, it was expected at least one country would be signed up by the end of February.
NFF president Fiona Simson said faster progress was needed, which could be achieved by opening negotiations with more countries.
The government has been tight-lipped about the countries the visa will be aimed at, but it's understood to be in talks with four Southeast Asian countries, with Indonesia the only nation comfortable enough to identify itself as being in negotiations.
"As negotiations continue, we urge the government to not be blinkered and consider other nations and regions who would benefit from being a part of Australia's Ag Visa," Ms Simson said.
"There is no doubt the task of securing partner countries is complex and we acknowledge the hard work of [the federal government]."
The Ag Visa is seen as a crucial step in easing agriculture's labour shortage, while complimenting the existing Pacific Worker Scheme, Seasonal Worker and Working Holidaymaker Programs.
"Farmers are welcoming backpackers return to farm and continue to value the contribution of Pacific workers," Ms Simson said.
"However, an Ag Visa is desperately needed to complement these programs by providing farmers, particularly small family farms, additional workforce options."
Ms Simson said with a federal election looming the NFF was calling for a commitment by both parties vying for government, to finalise 10 Ag Visa partner countries in the first year in office.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was in discussions with a number of countries in Southeast Asia, but made no comment about plans to expand negotiations.
"DFAT is working hard with industry and participating countries alike and remains committed to bringing new Agriculture Visa workers to Australia to address workforce shortages as soon as possible," a DFAT spokesperson said.
"Australia understands and respects the timeframes of partner countries. We are committed to getting the settings right."
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