Agricultural Workforce

Australia’s agricultural industry is currently worth around 60 billion dollars to the Australian economy.

Ensuring this industry has a consistent source of skilled and developed workers is key to the future success of the industry.

The Australian government is developing a National Agriculture Workforce Strategy to address the agricultural industry's need to build a skilled workforce that equips us for the future.

It will explore potential opportunities:

  • in school education
  • in vocational education and training
  • in higher education
  • by providing employees with competitive employment conditions.

This national strategy will position Australia’s agriculture industry in a way that attracts and develops the skilled future workforce it requires.

Our agricultural industry needs to attract a workforce that accommodates:

  • rapid technological advancements
  • changing product markets and trade opportunities
  • new work methods
  • demographic and other social and economic changes.

The strategy is currently being developed by an expert panel - the National Agriculture Labour Advisory Committee – and will be provided to government by the end of October 2020.  Information on the committee and its membership is below.

National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee

On 11 December 2019, Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie, Minister for Agriculture announced the membership of the National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee. The committee will develop the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy, which will investigate ways to ensure a sustainable future workforce for the sector and report to government by the end of October 2020.

Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee members:

  • Mr John Azarias (Chair) – Public policy specialist, NSW
  • Professor Ruth Nettle (Deputy Chair) – Leader of Rural Innovation Research Group, University of Melbourne, VIC
  • Mr John Williams (Deputy Chair) – Former NSW Senator, NSW
  • Mr Will Barton – CEO of Gundagai Meat Processors, NSW
  • Industry Professor Hermione Parsons – Director of the Institute for Supply Chain and Logistics, Deakin University, VIC
  • Mr Geoff Richards – Managing Director of Richgro Garden products and former Chair of Agrifood Skills Australia, WA
  • Dr Angeline Achariya – Executive Director of Innovation and Growth at Simplot Australia, VIC
  • Ms Julie Aldous – Rural educator, VIC
  • Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer – Health Research Institute and the Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, ACT
  • Mr Robert Hinrichsen – Owner/Director of Kalfresh, QLD
  • Mr Clayton Nelson – Senior Executive at Austral Fisheries, WA

Between March and July 2020 the committee conducted a comprehensive consultation process, speaking to over 250 stakeholders across the sector, including education providers, rural research and development corporations, industry representatives, governments, producers, grower and farm systems groups, processors and retailers. The committee received over 100 written submissions on its National Agricultural Workforce Strategy discussion paper.

The committee is currently considering the insights gained from the consultation and submission process to develop the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy.

Terms of reference


The purpose of the National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee (the Committee) is to help progress the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy (the Strategy) and to advise the Government on farm labour and agricultural sector workforce challenges. The Strategy provides the opportunity to comprehensively assess the workforce needs of the agriculture industry.


The Committee will:

  • prepare the Strategy, including considering and examining:
    • the current and expected future agriculture industry workforce and skill needs
    • the current and expected demand and supply of labour for the agricultural supply chain to meet future agriculture industry workforce and skill needs
    • the effectiveness of current education and training arrangements, including programs designed to promote agricultural careers to students, at meeting the agriculture industry’s workforce and skills needs
    • best practice examples and case studies of agricultural workforce development and potential innovative approaches aiming to deliver better outcomes
    • the outcomes from any other relevant reviews, consultation to date and inputs made by industry groups.
  • as requested by government, provide specialist advice on farm labour and agricultural sector workforce challenges.

Note: ‘agriculture industry’ includes the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries and their closely allied service and supply chain industry sectors.


The Australian agriculture industry is changing, including through:

  • the adoption of technologically advanced equipment and techniques
  • the emergence of internationally competitive industry and business structures
  • production changing to favour regions or products that are competitively advantaged
  • a trend towards supplying premium food and fibre products.

At the same time as these changes are occurring, research suggests there is a lack of understanding about career prospects in the industry. There are also concerns about the ability of current education and training initiatives to upskill the industry workforce in response to the changes listed above.

The situation is dynamic. Responsibility for developing the agricultural workforce is shared between a suite of Commonwealth and State and Territory Government agencies, industry representative and private sector stakeholders. Workforce development initiatives undertaken by these groups confront opposing forces from environmental, economic and social factors, such as drought or poor commodity prices.

The Strategy will recommend potential actions to address the agriculture industry’s future workforce needs. These actions will target school education, vocational education and training and higher education to attract, retain and upskill the domestic workforce and identify where access to a migrant workforce will be necessary to meet the industry’s workforce needs.


The Committee will be chaired by an independent chair and up to 12 other members with relevant skills and experience in agriculture, fisheries or forestry industries, related agricultural supply chain industries, education and training and/or the future of work.

Other external experts and participants may be invited by the chair to discuss particular agenda items.


National consultation will be undertaken to inform the development of the Strategy. The Committee will decide on the details of the consultation required to develop the Strategy.


Unless otherwise arranged, the Committee will meet at least three times to support the development of the Strategy, which is expected to take nine months to complete. There will be flexibility in whether meetings are conducted in person or by other means such as teleconferencing.

The Committee will develop a work-plan to address the Terms of Reference. This could include commissioning expert advice or other assistance, if required.


The Committee will report the outcomes and advice from the meetings to the Minister for Agriculture. Once completed, the Strategy will be submitted to the Minister for Agriculture and then published.


The Department of Agriculture will provide secretariat and administrative support for the Committee.


The activities of the Committee and the secretariat will be funded by the Department of Agriculture.


The Committee is expected to operate for up to two years.

Last reviewed: 7 August 2020
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