With border closures putting pressure on the upcoming summer berry picking season, the Federal government has announced the new Australian Agriculture Worker Visa.
The government amended the Migration Regulations on September 30, 2021 to create the Australian Agriculture Worker Visa (Ag Visa) and continue along the pathway of providing a functional visa that will help secure the future of rural and regional Australia.
The hope is for the Ag Visa to secure the long-term labour force that farmers in Cowper desperately need.
Owner of Ticoba Blueberries and Avocados Ernst Tideman said the Ag Visa will hopefully help them secure workers during picking season, but if borders don't reopen they will face a shortage of pickers for the second year in a row.
"We had a shortage of pickers last season and it will happen again this year if borders aren't opened for backpackers," he said.
"It has slowed the season down. We lost 90 per cent of our blueberry crop last year due to the rain and a low number of pickers.
"The visa will allow more workers during the picking season."
Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan said the Ag Visa will help create a pathway to permanent residency for those workers who will help secure the future of our region.
"The creation of the Ag Visa under the Migration Regulations is a landmark moment for the sector and delivers on our promise to have it in place this year," he said.
"The visa will be available to seasonal workers, skilled and semiskilled workers. And it is not just those on the farm that benefit, the fisheries, forestry and agricultural processing sectors and will also get access to workers under this visa."
Mr Conaghan said worker restrictions for producers has posed a number of issues in the past, but that COVID and the subsequent international and internal border closures made finding workers more of a challenge.
"We now have a visa that will give the Mid North Coast a long term, reliable workforce for its crucial agricultural industries," he said.
Ernst and Penny Tideman have been operating their farm at Comboyne for 19 years and said the majority of their workers during the harvest period are international backpackers.
"The blueberries are very labour intensive and around two thirds of our workers during picking season are non-Australian," Mr Tideman said.
"A lot of our Australian workers will return home while the backpackers will stay on and work throughout the season.
"We do need the security that we will have workers during picking season."
The new regulation provides a new Australian Agriculture Worker stream which will provide for the entry and temporary stay of workers across all industry sectors.
Any workers will also need to meet the necessary Federal and State quarantine requirements.
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