Farmers have increased their domestic workforce in response to losing access to international labour, a Federal Government survey has found. According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences survey, the horticulture sector, which hosts around 25-30 per cent of all working holiday makers, has faced a decrease of 11,000 in its workforce since 2019. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the seasonal worker part of schemes such as WHM and Pacific Australia Labour Mobility have declined by 26 per cent —9800 workers — and 9 per cent — 800 workers — respectively. The ABARES survey suggested, however, horticultural output levels had remained relatively “steady” because of an improvement in seasonal growing conditions relative to the previous season. “Output has also been maintained through a range of adaptations ... including increasing the hours worked by the existing workforce, altering production systems and by employing more Australians and overseas residents already in Australia,” ABARES documents stated. The findings ring true for Binningup producer and co-owner of Patane Produce, Pennie Patane. She said her family-run operation did manage to keep going through the pandemic, but it was difficult because of short-staffing issues. “Pre-COVID we would have around 80 staff, and about 30 of them would have been working holiday makers and five Pacific Labour Scheme workers,” she said. “It hasn’t been easy by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s probably only because we are farmers and that we are prepared to work long hours and work very hard ourselves.” Ms Patane said around 70 per cent of the farm’s market was exports, and produce such as carrots had still done well but the business had faced shipping issues as a result of COVID-19. Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said while the industry had sustained production, some of these adaptations were unsustainable in the long run. “According to ABARES work, over 50 per cent of horticulture farms had difficulties accessing workers over 2020-21. Farmers have been clever and resourceful, but it cannot go on forever,” he said. “Left unaddressed, we run the risk of shortages in food products on our shelves, and that will mean cost increases at the checkout.” ABARES survey results were based on telephone surveys conducted on 3429 horticulture farms across Australia.