UP TO a thousand working holiday makers are leaving the country every week, leaving the ag sector and the government scrabbling to come up with a solution to fill the upcoming labour shortfall.
A federal government inquiry into the Working Holiday Maker program was urged to act swiftly to avoid a "bureaucratically man-made disaster" that could decimate the horticulture industry.
In a normal year, there are about 200,000 working holiday makers in the country at any one time, but that number has dropped to 80,000 and continues to fall due to the pandemic.
Although unemployment continues to grow, attracting Australians to the industry remains as difficult as ever.
Australian Fresh Produce Alliance chief executive Michael Rogers said between the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and June, only eight per cent of the 23,000 job inquiries within the industry were from Australian citizens.
He suggested the government provide a $1200 relocation incentive to entice Australians to take up seasonal work in horticulture, however he acknowledged filling the shortage with local labour would be impossible.
"While there might be an increase [in local labour], it's not going to be an increase which covers the 50,000 workers in the Working Holiday Maker program the horticulture industry needs next year," Mr Rogers said
"So if the working holiday makers continue to leave at approximately 1000 a week, we have very critical issues leading into 2021."
Mr Rogers said the industry wanted the government to focused on finding new pathways for overseas workers.
"There is an opportunity to provide a specific visa to other countries, which complements the working holiday visa," he said.
"That would be a very targeted measure, which would provide short-term support in the industry.
"But also in the long term, it is a consistent policy approach to say 'let's trial it in a crisis'. If it works, there is the opportunity to expand it or refine that visa."
Nationals MP Damian Drum said the government had to get on the front foot, otherwise it was staring down the barrel of a "bureaucratically man-made disaster".