New ag minister outlines top priorities

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The new agriculture minister has outlined labour shortage, biosecurity and "skyrocketing" input prices as short-term priorities in his new portfolio.

In his first major address as minister Murray Watt told a horticulture conference in Brisbane that climate change, sustainability and improving agriculture's value were his longer-term concerns.

"I already can see that workforce, biosecurity and input costs are probably the three most serious short term challenges ... We're onto it ... and I'm up for any ideas," Senator Watt said on Wednesday.

He said he recognised farmers are on the front line of climate change and can take advantage of opportunities in agriculture "to make a buck out of making adjustments to deal with climate change".

He told more than 1000 producers while he's not a farmer, "farming is in my blood" and his family had a long connection with agriculture.

"I'd like to think myself as someone who is as comfortable in the city as I am in the country," he said.

The Queensland senator told the packed audience he realised the current labour shortage was a huge concern for the horticulture industry.

"It's arguably the single biggest challenge facing hort in particular in our country at the moment," he said.

Prior to the election. Labor committed to dumping the coalition's "agriculture visa" in favour of expanding the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme.

Senator Watt said feedback from stakeholders had been that the expansion of PALM is welcome but more is needed to attract skilled and semi-skilled workers to agriculture.

"I'll be frank with you. There's more that we could be doing around that as the new government ... to solve those challenges," he said.

He wants to prioritise the training and employing Australians in agriculture.

"I am very much open to discussion with the industry about what else we can do around skilled migration in particular to meet some of the challenges that we have," he said.

Senator Watt also met with several growers at the conference including the CEO of one of Australia's top vegetable producers and suppliers, Fresh Select.

John Said urged the minister to reconsider his position on the agriculture visa, saying the the PALM scheme's expansion was not enough.

"We remain hopeful that something can be done," he said.

"I think an ag visa is critical to the industry, talking about skilled workers and talking about the opportunity for some of those potential immigrants to come in as permanent residents in the future.

"I'm sure (Senator Watt) will hear the same message from a number of people that he's meeting here today ... we need an ag visa."

But when questioned by AAP whether the agriculture visa could survive, he said it would not.

"My intention is to deliver our election commitments and we said that we would not continue the ag visa."

"It has been a failure ... we think the better way to go is to expand PALM ... I understand that is one part of the solution."

"We'll obviously have an ag visa stream in the Pacific labour scheme as we're remodelling it and we said we would honour the Vietnam agreement," he told AAP.

On Tuesday, the new minister made his first visit to a cotton farm near Emerald in central Queensland.

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