NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall is investigating how to get overseas workers to fill the ag labour shortage because "soft and lazy" Australians won't get off the couch.
With NSW front and centre of this year's big winter crop comeback and horticulture about six weeks from harvest, Mr Marshall said it was critical to act now as there would be a shortage of between 3500 and 5000 workers needed in the state.
Mr Marshall said there were two options on the table; find Australians to do the jobs, or work out how to get overseas workers into Australia with COVID-19 restrictions.
"The problem is that Australians simply won't do this type of work," Mr Marshall said.
He said while the Commonwealth's JobKeeper and JobSeeker benefits kept the economy going, it also provided a disincentive for Australians to fill the vacancies that exist in the ag workforce.
"They are being paid to stay on the couch," Mr Marshall said.
"We have more chance of getting overseas workers here than Australians getting off their bums because while ever they pick up JobKeeper and JobSeeker there is less chance of them getting off the couch.
"Australians are lazy and soft when it comes this kind of work."
Mr Marshall said incentives could be provided to Australians to do the seasonal work while also being able to keep a portion of the benefits they were currently receiving.
But failing to do that, he said the ag sector would need to find an alternative workforce from countries like Vanuatu or Fiji that were free of coronavirus and provide a way for them to fly into Australia and quarantine for 14 days before they went on to work. In the Northern Territory, Mr Marshall said they were flying workers in from Vanuatu to pick mangoes, which was a template that could be used for Queensland and NSW.
"I'm prepared from NSW that if we need to use taxpayers money to make a scheme work like this, it's something worth investing in," he said.
"Farmers are desperate to find employees now that are willing to work hard. We cannot afford to miss out on economic opportunities in ag for a lack of a workforce just at a time when we are coming out of drought and are in drought recovery.
"If we allow that to happen we have failed as governments, we have to find alternatives and we have to be creative and there are a couple of options that could work."
NSW Farmers' president James Jackson said the wool industry was about 500 shearers short for the season and with a wet spring predicted there was a concern about shearing programs not being completed.
"We can't re-purpose people unemployed in the tourism industry to become shearers as it is a highly skilled profession," Mr Jackson said. He added the horticulture industry would also need seasonal workers as their harvest season kicked into gear in the next six to 10 weeks.