Swanport Harvest cannot find enough local workers, owner Don Ruggiero says

A lack of workers is one of several issues keeping a Murraylands horiculture business from reaching its full potential, Jobs and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has been told on a visit to the region.

Despite Murray Bridge's relatively high unemployment rate, Swanport Harvest owner Don Ruggiero told Senator Cash he had lost faith in his ability to recruit locally.

He said he had taken on 60 workers the last time he did so, but that most had quit within a fortnight and only two were left two months later.

Many of his employees now commuted from Adelaide, including a number of foreigners on skilled work visas.

"It just amazes me that with 23,000 or 24,000 people here we can't find people.

"Even my main manager is from the Hills."

Meanwhile, he said, wages made up a higher and higher percentage of his costs.

Member for Barker Tony Pasin said there were plenty of job opportunities in the Murraylands, and that people needed to be prepared to work.

"Our (federal government's) role is to create a process where the people who want to work ... we train them up so when they come to you they're not on a pathway to failure," he said.

"Businesses throughout the Murraylands are holding back on investment decisions because they worry about finding labour.

"There are great opportunities, but you can't take them because you don't know if the staff will be here."

Senator Cash said programs such as Jobs 4 Murraylands – which has graduated more than 140 people in the past two years – were beginning to bridge the gap between joblessness and employment.

But she also promised to ask her department's state manager to find a solution.

A lack of nearby land and a likely spike in water prices were also restricting Swanport Harvest's growth, Mr Ruggiero said.

He said supermarket chain Woolworths would like to use his Staycrisp lettuce brand nationally, but he could not produce enough to meet demand, even in collaboration with other growers.

Swanport Harvest grows five million lettuces per year – including the premium Staycrisp range, which it pioneered – as well as cauliflowers and celery.

Senator Cash also visited Parents Next and IGA Westside and met Regional Development Australia executive Jo Podoliak during her tour.

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