Broadacre salaries feel the impact of drought

Liz Wells, December 16, 2019

THE eastern Australia drought is having an impact on salary levels in the broadacre farming sector, according to analysis by recruitment service, Agricultural Appointments.

In its ‘Agribusiness Trend and Salary Report 2019’, the business compared the shifts and trends in rural employment and salary levels to those in the previous report in 2015.

Agricultural Appointments senior agribusiness consultant and managing director, Dr Ray Johnson, said while farm manager salaries had increased overall, those in the broadacre farming sector had softened and the number of roles was significantly down on previous years.

He said demand for managers in the horticulture sector remained strong and that was the sector that was underpinning overall farm manager salary levels.

“I think agriculture is a bit depressed at the moment, particularly in broadacre farming. Obviously, the drought has had an impact. But the horticultural industry is still searching for good farm managers and is willing to increase salaries to get them,” he said.

Agro incomes take a hit

Dr Johnson said one of the more surprising findings was that senior agronomists’ salaries had fallen in recent years.

“The only thing we have noticed is there are some new immigrants coming in and a lot of them are highly qualified. That has increased the supply, and demand has softened. That is a reason why salaries are softer in that area,” he said.

“You’d think that regional agricultural operators would weight their salaries to attract people, but they tend not to. I think that is a mistake. They are not loading in a regional understanding.”

Agricultural Appointments’ 2015 salary report showed senior agronomists were achieving salaries of $105,000 (in a range of $80,000 to $110,000), which represented the strongest salary growth since 1995, and nearly 20 per cent more than the average salary.

However, the 2019 figures show a drop in the average salary for senior agronomists to $92,000 (in a range of $70,000 to $120,000).

Gen Y workforce of the future

Looking ahead, Dr Johnson challenged agribusiness employers to refocus their businesses on attracting and employing under-utilised talent – such as Generation Y (18-34-year-olds) and women – who were currently under-represented in agriculture.

“Gen Y is coming through. When you survey Gen Ys, regional locations are not on their agendas. There is a very low percentage of them who are thinking they will move regionally for a role. It is fairly alarming,” he said.

“They are society’s future leaders and managers and if businesses want to stay relevant and profitable, they need to attract and retain Gen Ys as a matter of urgency. Agribusinesses face a bigger challenge than most, since only 16 per cent of Gen Y currently choose to live in non-urban areas. Drawing them to regional businesses is competitive, especially in remote rural areas.”

Women still under-represented

Dr Johnson said women now made up 52 per cent of students in university courses for agriculture, environment and related studies, but that wasn’t yet translating to more women actually being employed in agriculture.

The WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) report from November 2018 found that despite women making up 50.1pc of the Australian workforce, the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector comprises only 34.8pc female employees.

A mere 16.9pc of managers in this field are women.

There is also a pay gap of $23,564 in favour of men.

“There is a big issue with women. They are now more than 50 per cent of all graduates across all the agricultural fields. They clearly don’t all end up in agriculture. It is not a gender-balanced sector,” Dr Johnson said.

“I have seen in rural regions women make up only 16 per cent of people in rural distributors. Women may be up to 30 per cent of some agribusinesses. But that is a significant drain on the skill base.

“Yet you look across the agricultural employment space in terms of what employers are thinking when they are employing people they are certainly not thinking about how to access that skill base. It is not being utilised. There is a big opportunity there.”



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