The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has slammed the state government's Early Retirement Scheme which has resulted in the loss of more than 100 jobs from the Department of Agriculture.
The Department said this year, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DPJR) offered a number of staff access to the government's Early Retirement Scheme.
A total of 174 voluntary Early Retirement Packages have been accepted across DJPR, including 100 from Agriculture Victoria.
However, VFF president Emma Germano said the decision was a backwards step for Agriculture in Victoria.
"The move comes at a time when agriculture and regional Victoria are facing significant challenges in the face of a changing climate, supply chain challenges and the ever-present risk of natural disasters," Ms Germano said.
Ms Germano added the move has the potential to undermine the progress made to support Victorian farmers.
"So much work has been done to build the research and development capacity of Agriculture Victoria to support the resilience of our farmers," she said, "our soil scientists are world class and essential to support the future of our young farmers as they adapt to climate change.
"It's absolutely preposterous that the Government is prepared to walk from that."
The VFF said the move came at a time when agriculture has underpinned Victoria's post-pandemic economic recovery.
"We try to work constructively with the government of the day, but when they tear the guts out of the Agriculture Department, it is further evidence to me that the Andrew's Government has no respect for the food and fibre producers of this State," Ms Germano said.
Leader of The Victorian Nationals and Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh backed the VFF, arguing the state government had abandoned Victorian farmers.
"More job losses targeting the people who support our food and fibre sector show Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas is no champion for Victorian farmers or agriculture," Mr Walsh said.
"These job cuts couldn't come at a worse time."
While the criticisms have come thick and fast, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said the move was a cost-saving 2021-2022 state budget initiative and did not reflect the government's investment in agriculture.
"As part of the Victorian Budget 2021-22, the Victorian Public Service was asked to implement a range of cost saving measures," they said, "all departments were asked to make these changes."
"We will always support our farmers and communities and our high-quality on-ground services will continue as the voluntary packages are rolled out, with more staff in Agriculture Victoria in 2022 than there were four years ago.
"We are investing more money than ever before in rural and regional Victoria -- almost $30 billion since 2015, which is four times more than the previous Liberal National Government."
The Department also flagged that staff departures were being staggered to ensure the least amount of disruption to the agricultural sector.
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