Grain Producers Australia continues to advocate stronger policies and modern initiatives to help provide improved and reliable access to farm labour, and support the profitability and sustainability of Australian grain producers.
This reflects the specific focus of GPA’s strategic plan, on human resources, to build a highly skilled and professional workforce.
During COVID-19, the ongoing closure of state and international borders caused a significant reduction in the availability of farm labour, especially skilled workers able to operate heavy machinery on grain farms.
In particular, the loss of experienced workers entering Australia from northern hemisphere countries on the Working Holiday Maker visa was estimated by the Department of Home Affairs to have dropped by 100,677 (-73.2pc), from March 2020 to June 2021.
These chronic worker shortages were felt across the major grain growing regions of Australia, but experienced most acutely by GPA’s grower members in Western Australia.
The subsequent social and economic impacts of these shortages highlighted the need to do more and find solutions to improve local labour supply and overseas options.
GPA responded to this serious workforce challenge by developing and advocating a national policy plan with our State Members. Released in August 2021, it highlighted these issues and called for support in a number of areas to find solutions, in the face of another looming record harvest.
Whilst a record national crop valued at about $28 billion was returned in 2021-22, workforce issues continue to present ongoing challenges for growers and industry.
It remains one of the major policy challenges faced by our members and complacency is not an option. That’s why GPA continues to advocate across government and industry to progress changes and outcomes.
Operation Grain Harvest Assist
In addition to the various support requests submitted in GPA’s national policy and advocacy plan, Operation Grain Harvest Assist was implemented in 2021.
GPA and our State Farming Members collaborated with former ADF members on this self-help initiative.
Retired Lt Col Garry Spencer, AM, led the coordination of volunteers and connected former veterans directly with farms via social media, to support farmers with harvest workers who had complementary skills and personal capabilities.
An estimated 200-300 veterans answered the call to assist grain producers throughout Australia in 2021 and many will return for Harvest 2022.
This complemented GPA’s work in collaboration with companies such as Qantas, to facilitate pilots and others to work on grain farms during periods when airlines were at a standstill. Pilots also had complementary skills and experience and were given specific training to help them handle the technical requirements of large broadacre harvest machinery.
Code of Practice
GPA has also developed a Code of Practice for autonomous farm machinery – working with project partners the Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia and Society of Precision Agriculture Australia. This technology offers exciting potential for productivity benefits such as farm labour management and time-saving efficiencies.
Recent Submissions and Advocacy
Practical resources for Farmers and Workers
Looking for work on-farm?
Jobs for on-farm work are advertised on a number of platforms, such as SEEK and Facebook groups, and through specific labour-hire firms.
If you're visiting from overseas, there's information about visa options for workers in agriculture on the Home Affairs website.
What’s involved with work on grain farms?
As a grain farm employee, you may be needed to:
Prepare equipment and machinery for seeding and harvest
Undertake summer cropping activities such as cultivating, seeding and applying appropriate fertiliser rates for all crops
Carry out harvest activities including crop topping, header driving, local grain delivery, grain testing and record keeping
Operate farm machinery including tractors, headers, grain bins and augers
Perform re-fuelling, routine maintenance checks and basic machinery servicing (i.e. greasing bearings, checking hydraulic fluid)
Transport and set up equipment and gear for the day, including field bins, utes, service vehicles and tractors.
TIP: It is always helpful if you approach tasks with a practical can-do attitude
Be adaptable to different tasks and changing work conditions
Be prepared to move fast if weather or some other issue might put the crop or farm at risk.
You can expect the environment during harvest periods to include:
Dusty, hot conditions and grain dust/straw and chaff can cause or aggravate allergies
Long hours working by yourself with a lot of space around you
Working as part of the harvest team
A workplace with hazards due to environment and size of machinery being used
The need for fast action on fire safety and awareness
Potentially limited access to amenities - toilet facilities are not usually available in the paddock
Machinery that is intuitive and to drives with technology, such as GPS
Mentally challenging work - operating complex machinery for extended periods of time
The role may require early morning or night work.
When is harvest work available?
The timing and duration of harvest depends on the season and weather conditions.
Cutting hay generally occurs in September and October.
The grain harvest gets underway in Queensland in September, New South Wales in October and Victoria and South Australia in November.
In Western Australia, harvest begins in the northern regions in October, progressively moving south over the next three months as crops ripen.
In most cases, harvest is wrapped up by the end of the year, unless there are interruptions due to wet weather.
What does harvest work pay?
Pay rates for grain harvest jobs commonly range from $25 to $35 per hour, plus superannuation.
Accommodation and meals might also be provided. Rates and extras will depend on your skill level, training and education.
Days can be long - 12 hours or more at times - and the work can be physically and mentally draining, but it is very rewarding for those who enjoy being outdoors and operating large machinery.
GPA Training is an online platform hosting a range of resources to support farm businesses and workers. This includes a comprehensive safety induction, farm safety, fire safety and preparedness, as well as basic grain site delivery familiarisation.
Comprehensive safety induction
Grain receival site safety
Fire safety and preparedness
Cropping and grazing safety
Company site delivery induction
We continue to offer courses to farm businesses and companies that may not have the infrastructure to provide their own online learning. GPA Training is continuously updating its existing courses and developing new ones, so check in to see what’s available on the GPA Training website here.