A nationwide operation has been launched to bolster the supply of local workers to help deliver this year’s bumper grains harvest and relieve pressure on farming communities.
Retired and former Australian Defence Force members are being mobilised under Operation Grain Harvest Assist to again answer the call-up and work on grain farms across the country.
The Operation aims to recruit willing workers with the skills needed to operate heavy machinery and perform other tasks during the harvest.
Retired Royal Australian Armoured Corps Lt. Colonel, Garry Spencer AM is the driving force behind Operation Grain Harvest Assist.
“We know COVID-19 has greatly reduced the supply of grain harvest workers from overseas, with more than 100,000 fewer backpackers available this year, compared to 2020,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve put our heads together with grains industry leaders and devised a plan of attack that’ll help not only farmers but also benefit our people with the option to get out and work on-farm to gain a sense of satisfaction, and valuable income, at this vital time.”
NSW Farmers’ Grains Committee Chair Matthew Madden said with ongoing border restrictions continuing to limit workforce availability, local workers will need to play more of a role in upcoming grain harvests.
“We’re set for another bumper crop after years of drought, but the NSW grains industry is expected to have a shortfall of around 1000 workers,” Mr Madden said.
“The availability of seasonal workers has dropped drastically since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while inconsistent rules around interstate travel have further reduced confidence in our ability to shore up an adequate workforce in time for harvest.
“We need a timely and successful harvest and the experience of former ADF servicemen and women in areas such as heavy machinery handling will make them ideal candidates for grain harvest roles, many of which are skilled or semi-skilled.”
Two Facebook pages will be managed by volunteer coordinators, with one of them linking workers to harvest jobs posted for farms in WA and SA, and the other for Queensland, NSW and Victoria.
Mr Spencer said the ADF’s priority was to ensure retired and former ADF servicemen and women received proper support, guidance and advice through volunteer co-ordinators being used during the Operation.
He said this would ensure proactive management of key issues such as labour agreements, employment conditions, training programs, accommodation arrangements, and travel eligibility as ‘Essential Workers’ under COVID-19 rules in different jurisdictions.
Grain Producers Australia Chair, Andrew Weidemann, said the ADF Operation was welcome and complemented other strategic policy initiatives pursued by GPA to help battle serious labour shortages.
He said this included urging government to provide tax relief and concessions to incentivise and expand the national army of Grey Nomads to take up work on farms during peak periods such as harvest or seeding.