Stemming the farm exodus

28 June 2024

Farmers and producers have been warning governments and policymakers for some time about a potential exodus from the agricultural industry.

Farmers continue to express frustration in dealing with the big supermarkets, the impact of dry seasons, and the ever-increasing costs of labour and energy. These are just a few of the factors fuelling discussions about giving up farming and leaving the industry.

The market dominance of the big two supermarkets means farmers struggle to make a living, while the gross profit margins of these supermarkets only increase. It is clear that farmers are finding it difficult to sustain their livelihoods as prices are set too low, making farming unviable into the future. 

In our most recent member survey, we were told that labour and workforce costs continue to be one of the top concerns for our members. TasFarmers has previously advocated for various simple policy fixes to help alleviate labour force issues, including changing the conditions for working holiday visas to increase the available workforce.

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Just last week, the Department of Home Affairs released a discussion paper on regional migration settings. The paper examines the full range of regional migration policies and has shone a particular spotlight on the Working Holiday Maker Program.

The current program saw nearly 12,000 holiday makers choosing to work in agriculture in the second half of last year. Backpackers play a critical role in our farm workforce, and any negative changes or failure to listen could drive farmers to leave the industry.

A survey conducted by the National Farmers Federation earlier this year confirmed this sentiment, finding that 63% of farmers nationally said removing the 88-day work incentive for backpackers would have a catastrophic impact on their farming businesses.

The industry not only generates billions in produce but also in tourism. This fact itself underscores the need for a purpose-built visa for agriculture.

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Farmers also need a tailored policy to support them in the struggle against rising energy costs, whether for fuel or electricity, which are essential for farm operations. Without government intervention and support, these costs could become prohibitively high, making it difficult for many to continue farming.

It's a timely reminder that farmers need to be heard when it comes to issues like rising farm input costs and cumbersome regulations, such as those for registering equipment for road use. Addressing these concerns isn't just about easing immediate burdens—it's about ensuring the long-term sustainability of our agricultural sector. 

Listening to farmers and responding to their needs is essential for maintaining the backbone of our rural communities and securing the future of food production in Tasmania and beyond. Policymakers and stakeholders must engage with farmers to develop practical solutions that support their indispensable role in our economy and society. 

Our members understand the importance of being part of a united voice that advocates effectively to government and policymakers. By working together, we can ensure that the concerns of farmers are heard and addressed, to deliver a sustainable future of our agricultural industry.

We provide a united voice

As the leading advocacy group in Tasmania and the only one that focuses exclusively on farming and the rural sector, the future of Tasmanian agriculture is our focus.

Join TasFarmers today for a greater future.

Contact our External Engagement Officer, Jacqueline Shipton