WHILE bristling at a suggestion that their industry could be a stop-gap for unemployed youth, Tasmanian farmers say they are facing a drought of young, skilled agriculturalists.
Fruit Growers Tasmania business development manager Phil Pyke was among many to condemn comments last week from Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, who suggested that unemployed youth could pick fruit in Tasmania while waiting for Newstart payments.
Mr Pyke said Senator Abetz's comments were demeaning, but he did acknowledge a looming skill shortage across various farming sectors, including fruit.
``What (Senator Abetz) should have said is: how come we've got youth unemployed when agriculture is screaming out for people to apply themselves, train, and take on a roles in what is becoming an incredibly advanced industry?
``Any young person who wants to consider a job in horticulture or agriculture - there are training pathways and plenty of farmers who are willing to take them on.''
``If we're going to realise full vision for agriculture in this state, we need to educate kids and consolidate our own skilled workforce.''
FGT and Agrifood Skills Australia last week announced plans for an industry-wide skills survey via a series of regional round-tables in June and July.
Mr Pyke said the aim was to identify future job needs and opportunities in horticulture.
``When freight falls into place and irrigation comes online, production in Tasmania is going to increase by a huge amount,'' he said.
Mr Pyke said being a farmer was not ``turning up, putting a hat on and sticking a bit of straw between your teeth''.
``Ultimately it's not about producing farmers but producing businesspeople whose focus is farming,'' he said.
TopQual Calthorpe orchard manager Brad Ashlin said the biggest challenge facing the industry was selling agriculture and horticulture as a career.
``It's a bit unfashionable at the moment - we're not getting a lot of younger guys through,'' he said.
``But on any given day, you can have 12 different skill sets rolled into one.
``Drainage, irrigation, pruning, packing, machinery, maintenance, nutrition, business . . . there is a lot of science and research involved now.
``And there are pathways, whether that be a traineeship, apprenticeship, diploma or university degree.''