INDUSTRY representatives and farmers across multiple sectors say sourcing agricultural labour, and labour in regional areas, is becoming increasingly difficult and is an issue that desperately requires long-term solutions.
Dairy is just one of the sectors grappling with how to tackle workforce and skill shortages contributed to by reduced availability of overseas workers, difficulty attracting people to live and work in regional areas and some people's unwillingness to work.
The South Australian Dairyfarmers' Association, as part of their election priorities, have called for a $4 million skills package over four years, with chief executive officer Andrew Curtis saying the industry not only had problems sourcing workers, but also in providing appropriate training to allow farmers' to develop the workers they had.
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"It's hard to attract to people to work in regional areas regardless of industry," Mr Curtis said.
"The dairy industry had good access to backpackers who were happy to milk cows, but over the last two years we haven't had that and there's uncertainty about when that will come back."
SADA was hopeful a $4m package would enable them to recruit workers and work with a training provider to enable staff to be trained appropriately and bolster the dairy industry in SA.
The election priorities document stated that SADA had made a commitment to increase milk production to 800 million litres from the current 500m litres by 2030 and when parties called on industry to respond to growth expectations, those parties had a responsibility to support those industries to meet expectations.
The SADA document said the proposed fund would support dairy farmers to "source trained staff who would have a commitment to the industry both today and into the future".
"The key challenge for the dairy industry, and for most agricultural industries, is to have training that is aligned with training packages but is flexible enough to allow it to fit into the dairy business and operations," Mr Curtis said.
"A lot of the current training systems aren't aligned with competencies or qualifications, or they expect people to be away from the business for large periods of time, which doesn't work when you've got to milk cows every day."
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Labour is not a new issue for SADA, who established the SA Dairy Workforce Committee last year in response to industry skills and workforce concerns.
Head of the committee, SADA's Ashleigh Pulford, said many issues had come into focus as a result of the committee's consultation.
"One of the big issues in the processing sector was that a lot of staff were going to Vic for training because there's not a dairy processing training option here in SA," she said.
"That was taking staff away from processors and it was inconvenient for people to be in Vic as well.
"On-farm it was a similar issue - they had to go to Mount Gambier or there was only limited availbility of courses at Roseworthy.
"There wasn't a registered training organisation that could deliver everything a farmer wanted, and some farmers recognised some courses that other farmers may not have."
Ms Pulford said the committee was in the process of setting up a new dairy processing course, while they were also seeking the accreditation of more dairy courses for on-farm workers.
The state government said it had a bevy of regional workforce programs in place to address worker and skills shortages, including the $200m Skilling SA program, $145m JobTrainer fund and a Mobilising Seasonal and Regional Workforce program, which had 253 participants according to PIRSA.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone and border closures and international travel restrictions have certainly made access to a regional workforce more difficult than usual," Primary Industries Minister David Basham said.
"Our government was quick to respond by establishing a quarantine facility at Paringa in the Riverland allowing Pacific Island seasonal workers to still come to SA.
"We also set up a support package including incentives to encourage people to take up regional work.
"Industry modelling shows if there was a significant reduction in the availability of seasonal workers there could have been nearly $1 billion wiped from our state economy. This would have been devastating for our local agriculture industry and the thousands of jobs across the state it supports.
"Thankfully, by working closely with industry to deliver these programs as well as more than $350m in other skills programs we were able to avoid this and continue to grow our workforce."
Opposition spokesperson for Primary Industries Clare Scriven said labour availability had been the number one issue raised with her as shadow Minister.
"The number one issue that has been raised with me as Shadow Minister is labour availability," she said.
"This includes seasonal workers for picking, packing, planting and processing, but also permanent vacancies in trades, technical and professional positions.
"These challenges were evident prior to COVID but have since been magnified.
"As an MP living in a regional area, I can see that the lack of workforce across many occupations is holding back many regional economies and preventing businesses from expanding and creating new jobs. Regional areas need to attract more workers so they can thrive and grow.
"We need an approach that addresses all of the issues that reduce labour availability. That starts with training and skills for our local workforces in regional areas."
Ms Scriven said a Labor government would establish five new technical colleges, including one on the Limestone Coast and one on the Upper Spencer Gulf.
She said Labor would invest $8.7m in courses where there were specific trade shortages and address issues that discouraged people from moving to regional areas like housing availability, access to services and transport, as well as spending at least $100m to improve SA's regional health system.
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