Incentivising investment key to addressing shortages

Feb 23, 2023 | Column

Availability of adequate housing for regional workers continues to be a major challenge to the agricultural sector, particularly at peak times such as vintage and harvest.

The COVID pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing issue around adequate housing stocks in regional areas.

COVID sparked an increased interest from urban dwellers in living in country areas, as it gave people the opportunity to work from home while enjoying the lifestyle benefits of living in the country, and this trend has continued.

With so much competition in the housing market, for people who can’t afford to buy in the city, it’s a lot cheaper to buy regionally than in the city suburbs, which increases the pressure on regional housing stocks.

Competition for regional housing means farmers often needed to make their own accommodation investments to secure the workers they needed on-farm. Even when you can find labour, it can be very hard to find appropriate accommodation for them.

It was pleasing to see the Malinauskas government announce the new Regional Key Worker Housing Scheme last week, which aims to create a continuous pipeline of homes in rural areas, and a newly established Office for Regional Housing.

Another way of tackling the issue could be incentivising investment in regional accommodation, particularly for farmers.

PPSA believes there is a role for government to incentivise greater private investment in regional accommodation, whether that’s through tax breaks or waiving charges like stamp duty.

Attracting more people into agriculture and making them aware of the booming opportunities within the sector is another major focus for Primary Producers SA.

According to Regional Australia Institute statistics, the regional unemployment rate averaged only 3.0 per cent in the final quarter of 2022 and since COVID regional unemployment has been tracking lower than metro unemployment – when historically the reverse has been true.

Food Supply Chain Alliance statistics also show an estimated shortage of 172,000 workers from paddock to plate nationwide, while Australian Farm Institute data highlights that there are six jobs available for every agriculture graduate.

There’s an age-old problem of how to get people to understand agriculture is not just about dust, dirt and work boots.

We need to attract people with high-tech skills into regional areas, in addition to those undertaking basic production work.

Technology, communications and data transfer is changing the face of agriculture and we need to encourage people with these skills to base themselves in the regions. But to do this, it goes beyond accommodation, we need a population plan that addresses issues such as infrastructure, health and education.

The recent call by Elders chief Mark Allison, for government jobs and innovation centres to be relocated to regional areas has merit, but any moves such as this would need to be backed up by a strong plan to make living in country areas just as easy and attractive as being a city resident.

Primary industries underpin the State’s tourism, food and wine sectors, and drive the economic capacity of the government to invest in health, education and jobs.

Continued investment in sustainable primary industries production and processing is key to securing the future of South Australia, driving economic growth to benefit all residents, rural and urban alike.

Having well-supported and vibrant primary industry is critical to having strong regional communities and that is why PPSA is proud to champion the significant contribution our sector makes.

This column was written by PPSA Chair Professor Simon Maddocks and first appeared in the February 23, 2023 edition of the Stock Journal.

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