Demand for labour on Australian farms has undergone substantial change over the past decade. The number of owner–managers and contributing family workers on family farms has declined as the number of farms has declined and the average size of farms has increased. At the same time, the number of employees across the agricultural sector has increased. The number of overseas workers, particularly in horticultural industries as seasonal labour, has also increased.

Limited detailed data is available on labour use in Australian agriculture. To improve understanding of agricultural industries’ workforce, ABARES developed a series of farm labour surveys. These surveys seek to provide a profile of the amount and type of labour used on farms, recruitment experiences and difficulties and future challenges.

Since 2015–16 ABARES has included a supplementary labour survey in the Australian vegetable-growing farms survey, the survey of irrigation farms in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australian Agricultural and Grazing Industries Survey, and the Australian Dairy Industry Survey.

Funding was announced in the May 2018 budget allowing ABARES to conduct a more comprehensive and ongoing collection and analysis of data on agricultural labour. This includes expansion of the surveys, projects exploring how the agricultural labour force has changed and factors affecting likely future supply and demand.

Horticulture industry labour use survey

ABARES is currently conducting a survey on labour use in the horticulture industry for 2018–19. The survey includes questions on use of family labour, employees, the background of the workforce, retention and recruitment activities. Lighthouse Data Collection has been contracted to conduct the fieldwork.

This work seeks to better inform government policies that support farm businesses to meet demand for appropriate workers.

The sample for this survey has been drawn from the Business Register maintained by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in accordance with legislative guidelines. The confidentiality of any information provided will be protected. ABARES undertakes not to publish data that may identify individuals or their farms. Further information about the department’s privacy policy is available at: Privacy.

ABARES has conducted surveys on farm labour use for broadacre, dairy, vegetable and Murray–Darling Basin irrigation farms. Previous ABARES farm labour research can be found below.

Recent reports

The Demand for farm workers: ABARES farm survey results 2018 report

Dufty N, Martin P, Zhao S – ABARES research report – October 2019

ABARES 2018 surveys provide an-depth profile of labour demand, recruitment difficulties and future challenges farmers face. The surveys covered broadacre, dairy and vegetable industries across all states, together with irrigated cotton and fruit and nut farms in the southern Murray Darling Basin. In aggregate these industries account for 74% of total Australian agriculture sector employment.


Snapshot of Australia’s Agricultural Workforce

Binks B, Stenekes N, Kruger H and Kancans R – ABARES Insights 2018

This snapshot provides key information and statistics on Australia’s agricultural workforce. We cover where workers live, what sub-industries and occupations they work in, and the mobility and educational attainment of the workforce.



Dairy work​​force survey 2015-16

Dufty N, Zhao S, Shafron W and Valle H ABARES research report – July 2018

ABARES survey results show the dairy industry’s labour force needs and challenges differ compared to other agriculture industries.



About my region: regional profiles

Each regional profile presents an overview of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors, land use, production, employment and farm financial performance.




What difference does labour choice make to farm productivity and profitability in the Australian horticulture industry? A comparison between seasonal workers and working holiday makers

Zhao S, Binks B, Kruger H, Xia C & Stenekes N – ABARES research report – February 2018

On average seasonal workers are 20 per cent more productive than backpackers, but their non-wage labour costs are 2.3 times higher. Productivity benefits of hiring seasonal workers likely outweigh the higher non-wage labour costs and deliver profitability gains for farmers.


Agricultural Commodity Statistics 2017

December 2017

See Table 3.2 for number of people employed in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.



Labour force survey

Valle H, Millist N and Galeano D ABARES research report – 18 May 2017

Insights into vegetable, horticulture and cotton farmers’ use of labour, recent recruitment experiences and expected future labour requirements.



Diversity in Australia's agricultural, fishing and forestry industry workforce

20 Feb 2015

A diverse range of people of varying ages, genders and cultural backgrounds work in and contribute significantly to Australian agricultural, fisheries and forestry. These information sheets provide statistics and trends in employment participation and workforce demographics.



Measuring the efficiency of horticultural labour: A case study on seasonal workers and working holiday makers, Farm Policy Journal


Using payroll data from a horticulture farm in Queensland, this study found that seasonal workers were on average significantly more efficient than working holiday makers.

Last reviewed: 15 April 2020
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