The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has commended changes to existing visa programmes to more effectively meet the farm sector’s chronic labour shortage. “Prime Minister Morrison has listened and is following through on his commitment to address agriculture’s workforce crisis,” NFF President Fiona Simson said. “The NFF and our members, in particular the NFF Horticulture Council, have led a united call for reform. “For more than a year we have been dedicated to raising awareness of the issue, collecting the evidence we needed to make our case and crucially, proposing solutions. “Today’s improvements to the Working Holiday Visa Programme and the Seasonal Worker Programme, are a direct result of this advocacy. “The changes will make it easier for farmers to source and retain the workers they need.” Under the reforms, working holiday makers (backpackers) will have the option of qualifying for a third year visa (currently it is limited to two) by undertaking an extra six months of regional work during their second year. Backpackers will also be able to undertake farm work in areas where labour is deemed most required, and have the time of work with a single farmer extended from 6 to 12 months. Importantly, the age limit for working holiday makers will be extended from 30 to 35 years (from 1 November for Canada and Ireland and with priority to all other countries). The Seasonal Worker Programme, via which farmers access workers from Pacific nations and Timor Leste, will be extended for all countries from 6 to 9 months. Out of pocket costs for employers will be reduced, as will the required onus to prove specific skill shortages. “We also welcome a $1.5 million investment in ensuring the Fair Farms Initiative continues to be available to horticulture and other agriculture sectors,” Ms Simson said. “The Fair Farms Initiative, aims to ensure that workers are treated fairly while they are employed on farm and in pack houses.” The funding will see an Industry Workforce Coordinator engaged for two years. A further $9.9 million will expand the scope and reach of the Fair Work Ombudsman. Ms Simson said the NFF supported a multifaceted approach to solving the farm sector’s labour woes. “The NFF, primarily through our Horticulture Council, has long called for a number of different initiatives, the sum of which would be an adequate and fit-for-purpose farm workforce. “We welcome these material changes and look forward to their implementation. “The NFF is pleased to have the Prime Minister’s support for a dedicated Agricultural Visa and we will continue to work with the Parliament to see the initiative become a reality. “The farm sector’s labour crisis is not going away. Everyday, farmers, including fruit and vegetable growers, dairy farmers and grain producers, are struggling to find the workforce they need to get the job done,” Ms Simson said. “Produce is going unpicked and farm businesses’ potential for growth is significantly constrained. “For agriculture to achieve our vision of being a $100 billion industry by 2030, the sector’s people power problems must be solved. “Today, under the leadership of Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, David Littleproud, meaningful steps have been taken to support farmers in accessing labour and to ensuring workers are not subject to exploitation.” “Like the Prime Minister, we also have a strong preference to see Australians employed on Australian farms. “To this end, we encourage all farm employers to register their vacancies with the Harvest Labour Service on 1800 062 332 or at www.jobsearch.gov.au/harvest ,” Ms Simson said.