Horticulture industry could employ Syrian refugees 

15 September 2015

The Federal Government’s decision to resettle 12,000 Syrian asylum seekers could be good news for the horticulture industry.

According to Tania Chapman, chair of the Voice of Horticulture, the horticulture industry is the largest agriculture industry employer and very reliant on seasonal workers, including both backpackers and those on temporary work visas. 

“The industry is worth about $10 billion at farm gate and while mechanisation of the industry is increasing, pruning and harvesting is still labour intensive,” she said.

In the Goulburn Valley and elsewhere, Middle Eastern migrants, from Iraq and Afghanistan, have made a significant contribution to the industry.  According to Craig Boyce, CEO of Integrity Fruit, a consortium of larger apple, pear and stonefruit growers, “Middle Eastern workers have distinguished themselves by their work ethic, ability to pick up and apply skills as well as their commitment to the industry.”

The industry will need to source more quality skilled workers to meet the growing demand for Australian horticulture products in Asia. In 2013/14 the industry exported $1.5 billion worth of product. Free Trade Agreements with Japan, South Korea and China auger well for an expanded export effort.

The horticulture industry currently employs more than 60,000 people across Australia and the forecast increase in production will require a growth in the number of full time and part time workers.

John Dollisson, CEO of Apple and Pear Australia Ltd, has identified the horticulture sector as very accommodating of new migrants and has provided the industry with a well needed supply of pruning and harvesting skills.

“Since the first wave of post-war migration, Italian, Greek and Turkish migrants have established themselves in the horticulture sector and are now major players and Vietnamese and Cambodian horticulturalists are now also prominent in the vegetable growing industry,” he said.

The Voice of Horticulture is actively engaging with major employers and growers across Australia and seeking meetings with politicians to ensure that the labour hire arrangements are both attractive and flexible.

The Voice of Horticulture, which represents horticultural growers and businesses across fruit, nuts, mushrooms, turf, nursery plants and cut flowers, has been discussing the need for increased flexibility in the minimum hours worked in relation to 417 (working holiday) visa workers as well as the possibility of a Green Card system to promote increased transparency and traceability of imported seasonal workers.

The horticulture industry is the third largest agriculture industry by value and the largest agriculture industry employer and therefore an important contributor to the economies of many growing regions.


Horticulture industry facts

  • The horticulture industry is Australia’s third largest agriculture sector with a farm gate value of $10 billion. This is half the value of broad acre and cropping sector, but only marginally smaller than the livestock sector.
  • The gross value of horticultural production is more than two and a half times dairy and more than four times larger than the wool sector.
  • The horticulture industry is Australia’s largest agriculture sector employer – employing one third of all agriculture workers. At August 2014, 61,100 were employed in the sector with a further 6,250 in fruit and vegetable processing.
  • There were 29,504 horticultural producers as at June 2013. These are mainly small to medium sized family businesses and the backbone of Australia’s rural and regional communities.
  • In 2013/14 the value of horticultural exports achieved a high of $1.544 billion, $1.36 billion of fresh and $182.2 million of processed. 


Media contacts

Tania Chapman
Chair, Voice of Horticulture
0428 291 717

John Dollisson
Director, Voice of Horticulture
0413 111 123

Follow news about Voice of Horticulture on Twitter via #voiceofhort