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Easing drought + modern farming = more jobs for skilled workers

2 July 2007

AMID encouraging signs the drought is easing, and with international markets at near 20-year highs, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says Australia’s farmers are poised for a big rebound from the worst drought on record – with on-farm job prospects to soar.

"Farmers have become much more adept at managing drought," NFF President David Crombie said. "They use conservation tillage technique (zero or minimal tillage) direct drilling, geo-positioning, stubble retention and a variety of on-farm water management strategies that enable them to protect the soil and maximise water retention and efficiency.

"As we appear to be at the beginning of drought recovery, our farmers have minimised their losses due to sound environmental management, and are now better placed than at any time in our history to hit the ground running – maximising returns in a good year.

"The latest ABARE crop forecast underscores the strength in our productive capacity and the opportunities ahead, if we get some more rain. Further, last week Westpac declared "the outlook for the farming sector is the most robust we have seen since the late 1980s".

"Modern farms need a higher skilled workforce than in the past. The new technologies employed on-farm demand it and farmers are only too willing to give employees the opportunity to hone their skills and adapt them to new farm systems.

"One issue to be overcome will be the availability of skilled labour, the demand for which will skyrocket as drought recovery gets underway. We estimate we will need an additional 50,000 workers to meet farm capacity as we fully emerge from this drought. So there are loads of opportunities for people with the right skills.

"Existing Government initiatives, and those announced in the 2007 Federal Budget, to bolster the skilled workforce are welcome in addressing the overall labour and skill shortages confronting industries reliant on trade qualifications.

"However, agricultural and horticultural apprentices are excluded from accessing these initiatives and incentives. Our capacity to generate economic growth is in jeopardy should farming continue to be excluded from attracting apprentices and developing the skills, education and training of our future workforce.

"We have had positive discussions with the Minister for Vocational and Further Education, The Hon Andrew Robb MP, who is sympathetic to our concerns and is considering ways in which to make apprenticeships in agriculture and horticulture more attractive.

"Becoming a modern farm apprentice is a rewarding and interesting career path. Modern farming means new apprentices get experience in the latest water saving technologies and computer equipment, satellite-guided tractors, soil management and monitoring techniques and advanced machinery. We need to ensure that farming is able to compete with other trade apprenticeships by having equal access to government initiatives and incentives."

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