Picking time is an especially busy and difficult time to get the extra labour required on cotton farms

The cotton industry’s labour force is critical to sustaining the industry’s competitive advantage. It takes into account on-farm labour, as well as the service industry and supply chain, which represent an extensive network of input and advisory providers that support cotton farmers such as agronomists, researchers, consultants, agribusiness, State government agencies, Cotton Australia, CSIRO, and universities. The dynamics of the industry’s labour varies across season, location and business size.

Current Challenges
The Australian agriculture sector is currently experiencing a labour and skills shortage, driven by an aging workforce, low attraction rates and strong competition from the resource sector.  This is being felt in the cotton industry, which is facing the challenge of attracting and retaining core staff, on-farm labour (unskilled and skilled), and access to professional advisers and service providers.  The problem has recently been driven by rapid expansion of the industry following years of drought, and the resources boom in some regions.

Addressing Industry Workforce Needs
Cotton Australia facilitates access to information and support for cotton growers to help manage the human resource, industrial relations and workplace health and safety requirements of their businesses. 
Cotton Australia is also involved planning at a sectoral and industry level, along with the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) to develop better, more strategic workforce solutions and drive action.  Cotton Australia also works with other organisations to address industry workforce needs including the National Farmers’ Federation and Queensland Farmers’ Federation, QLD Rural Industry Training Council, and the Primary Industries Education Foundation.

Cotton Australia supports a number of initiatives and programs in the areas of school education, resources development, career path development and industry leadership.  The organisation also supports external workforce attraction programs and links to national and state school programs, the VET sector and regional workforce initiatives. 

myBMP Human Resources Module
The cotton industry’s online myBMP program includes a ‘Human Resources’ module, which provides guidance to help growers meet legal obligations around employing staff and put in place procedures to optimise employee productivity.   The module includes a range of templates and resources including current employment legislation; draft position descriptions; and induction templates.  Visit the myBMP website

Workplace Health and Safety Information
For resources to help growers with farm workplace health and safety, please follow these links:

Avenues To Source Labour Through the Migration System
In the cotton industry and across the agriculture sector, overseas workers are used to fill labour gaps, particularly during peak times when local labour is difficult to access. Many agricultural employers use ‘backpackers’ or overseas workers on working holiday visas.  Difficulties in sourcing suitably qualified on-farm staff has also led to an increased trend in sponsoring overseas workers to work on farms, mainly via the 457 visa

In addition, the Federal Government are promoting the Seasonal Workers Program, Labour Agreement and Regional Migration Agreement as new ways to help meet on-farm labour, enabling employers to sponsor overseas workers outside standard migration programs. 

Cotton Australia has developed an information flier for growers with more information on the options available to source labour through the migration system. Whilst migration can provide labour in short time frames, it can only support Australia’s domestic training and workforce arrangements.  A commitment to our local workforce and communities remains a priority for the cotton industry, and this is reflected in the strategies and investments of the industry’s organisations. 

Influencing Policy
Cotton Australia:
- Contributes to government reviews and inquiries regarding agriculture and the industry’s education and workforce issues.
- Provides important input to state and federal government skills and workforce demand reviews, to highlight the current and future industry workforce situation and ensure needs are recognised and supported. 
- Participates in the National Farmers’ Federation Workplace Relations Committee, which coordinates policy work, lobbying and action on issues including agricultural education, skills and training, industrial relations and migration.

Cotton Industry Research, Development and Extension
Through a number of cotton industry research and development human capacity projects managed by CRDC, the industry is gathering data to better understand the extent and drivers of workforce demands – critical for developing solutions and influencing policy.  It is important that industry workforce plans that evolve to address the industry’s needs in the medium to long term are informed by this R&D.  Cotton Australia provides important grower advice on the industry’s R&D program in this area, via the Human Capacity Advisory Panel.