Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has appealed to young Australians to work in farm harvest jobs with the lure of love and an Instagram moment.
The federal government is weighing up cash incentives for school leavers and university students with farmers desperate for 26,000 extra workers this summer.
Mr McCormack extolled the virtues of a regional gap year to pick fruit and vegetables.
“If you know somebody who might be on the coast who might be lounging around with a surfboard, tell them to come to the regions,” he told the Regional Australia Institute on Wednesday.
“Bring their mobile with them because it would be a great Instagram moment for them to get up the tree to pick some fruit.
“Who knows, they might take some friends with them, they might meet new friends there, they might meet the love of their life.”
The government has already announced allowing job seekers to earn $300 a fortnight without affecting their welfare payments.
Backpackers working on farms can stay with one employer for more than six months and stay in Australia an extra year.
Programs aimed at bringing in Pacific and Timorese workers to fill rural and regional job shortages have reopened.
But there are warnings more need to be done, including from a bipartisan parliamentary committee that wants student loan discounts.
The committee has also called for dole recipients to be able to keep more of their payments while doing low-paid farm work.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he was working closely with farmers on additional measures ahead of next week’s federal budget.
“Farmers don’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for workers to turn up and we don’t want fruit rotting on the vine or crops left in the field,” he told AAP on Wednesday.
Even before coronavirus, labour shortages have been a key issue in agriculture, with the coalition yet to heed calls for a dedicated farm worker visa.
Tough working conditions and low pay have historically been seen as a barrier to Australians filling the jobs.
There have been shocking cases of exploitation across horticulture.
Mr McCormack is also pushing a regional road trip revival to stimulate local tourism with international borders shut.
He believes millennials who may have intended to holiday in Europe or Bali will spend money in the regions.
“They’re now going to go to the Big Banana. They’re going to go to the Big Prawn,” Mr McCormack said.
“They’re going to the big whatever – and there are lots and lots of big things out in regional Australia for them to go and get photographed in front of.”