Vegie business shutting down due to visa rule changes

A LOCAL organic farmer is shutting down his vegie growing business following "restrictive" changes to the Federal Government's working holiday visa program.

The Department of Immigration is changing the eligibility criteria of the second year Working Holiday Visa in response to exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector.

From November 19 travellers will need to be paid the regulation hourly rate for their 88 days of employment needed for a visa extension, instead of volunteering or getting paid in kind.

But according to WWOOF Australia, the changes will have a devastating affect on the Willing Workers On Organic Farms program, which in turn underpins many organic farming operations.

The changes have prompted at least one local farmer, Kieran Weston from One Organics, to start closing down his operation.

Mr Weston runs a hectare-sized vegetable plot for educational and research purposes as a sideline to his organic seedling business.

He relied on voluntary labour to grow vegetables, with payment made with a box of vegies and a hands-on education in modern organic farming.

He said the old agreement was mutually beneficial to both parties.

"It was almost like a training program," he said.

"The vast majority of the people were there to understand more about growing organic vegetables.

"All of the people who have worked on the farm have become mates.

"We've got a pretty special way of looking after the people who come along; when they put their heart into what they're doing they become a massive asset to us."

Mr Weston said he was aiming to perfect a method of farming which was sustainable and could be rolled out to other local farmers.

But he said he would be forced to pay "thousands of dollars in wages" to honour the new law.

"As a consequence we'll shut down," he said.

"It's a damn shame because about 85% of the produce in Byron comes from Brisbane. The local farming industry won't grow, it will just get smaller. It's a big hit."

Mr Weston said the changes would impact a number of other local organic farms and the viability of 3500 farms across Australia.

A petition on to lobby Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to make an exception to the new visa rules has already attracted 4900 signatures.

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