High use of 'ice' in regional areas a serious concern for agriculture industry

DRUG WOES: NSW Farmers Wagga district branch chairman Alan Brown says the use of ice is a serious problem in some areas of the agriculture industry. Picture: Les Smith
DRUG WOES: NSW Farmers Wagga district branch chairman Alan Brown says the use of ice is a serious problem in some areas of the agriculture industry. Picture: Les Smith

A RIVERINA farmer says the high use of 'ice' in regional areas is a concern in the agriculture sector.

The use of methamphetamine - commonly known as ice - in regional NSW is among the highest in the country, according to an Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission report.

NSW Farmers Wagga district branch chairman Alan Brown said the use of ice has become a serious problem in some areas of the region's agriculture industry, particularly those hiring a seasonal workforce for tasks such as fruit picking or sheep shearing.

"The machinery that farmers and their employees frequently use has enough dangers, but when drugs are added to the mix it just adds to the risk - and not only for the individual, but those working around them," Mr Brown said.

It is because of this, Mr Brown - who is a wool grower by trade - believes drug testing should be more accessible for farmers who suspect illicit substances have been used by their staff.

NSW Farmers Wagga district branch chairman Alan Brown.

NSW Farmers Wagga district branch chairman Alan Brown.

The NSW Farmers' Association wrote to the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug 'Ice' earlier this year, saying employers could only test workers for drugs and alcohol when written consent from the worker is obtained, prior to the testing.

"In a situation where it is essential, drug testing should be a part of the regime - given what is happening in the real world," Mr Brown said.

"Many of these workers are short-term or through a labour hire company, which makes it extremely difficult to know and identify the behaviours of their staff."

Although the majority of farmers have a low-tolerance towards drug use, Mr Brown said employers are faced with a difficult decision.

"It becomes a real issue when the problem persists because farmers need skilled employees, which is hard to come-by in this industry," he said.

"It is a delicate issue, but ice creates problems, changes behaviours and makes people more volatile."

However, Gerry Papasidero - who is a partner at Pacific Fresh - does not believe drugs are a concern in the citrus growing industry.

With up to 500 workers out in the field, he said drugs are non-existent in his workplace. But, he said employers should be free to drug test its staff and deal with the outcome accordingly.

"Ice is the biggest problem around here - and there's a lot of risky behaviours that comes with that. Employees can hurt themselves while operating fork lifts or driving tractors in the field," he said.