Retired Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel have answered a call to help bring in what is expected to be a bumper grain harvest in many parts of the country.
- Operation Grain Harvest Assist aims to pair farmers with retired ADF personnel
- COVID-19 has cut off the usual supply of machinery operators from overseas
- Organisers say ex-servicepeople will easily adapt to the work and equipment
ADF volunteers have joined industry peak body Grain Producers Australia (GPA) to get Operation Grain Harvest Assist up and running.
GPA chairman Andrew Weidemann said he was blown away by the reaction so far.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable, the response we’ve received from the ADF,” he said.
“It’s quite humbling, really, that these people have served their country and now at a time of need again they’re putting their shoulder to the wheel to help us bring in what for some farmers could be their biggest and best harvest ever.”
Mr Weidemann said he thought ex-servicepeople would adapt quickly to the work.
“A lot of them are really process-driven because of their training, so I think it will be very easy for them to be trained on a header or a tractor or a truck, and a lot of them already have heavy vehicle licences as well,” he said.
An idea is born
Retired army officer and Operation Grain Harvest Assist Western Australia and South Australia co-ordinator Kevin McCarthy said the idea came one Sunday afternoon via Landline, the ABC’s rural TV program.
“A very good friend of mine, Garry Spencer, rang me one day and said he’d just watched a program on Landline about the forthcoming plight of the grain farmers and them not having enough workers to get the grain off the paddocks and into the silos in time,” Mr McCarthy said.
“He said, ‘Why don’t we try and mobilise ex-servicemen and see if we can get them to come and help the farmers by operating [machinery]?'”
“Personnel are highly trained in using sophisticated equipment, so it wouldn’t take much training to convert them to driving a header, perhaps, or a chaser bin.”
The program is being managed through two Operation Grain Harvest Assist Facebook pages — one for WA and SA, and another for Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Mr McCarthy said the pages were already fielding plenty of enquiries.
“We’re pretty sure this can be a successful program, wherever and however, to help these farmers get their crop off,” he said.
Other proposals on the table
GPA is pushing for government tax relief and concessions to encourage grey nomads to take up harvest work.
“We believe that’s an area that’s precluded quite a few people from getting involved and we think this is an opportunity for government to help,” Mr Weidemann said.
GPA is also writing to rural businesses and asking them to allow their stock agents and agronomists to take unpaid leave to work on farms during harvest.
It wants the federal government to expand its new ag visa beyond the 10 South East Asian countries listed to include places like Denmark and Canada, which are traditional sources of skilled farm labour.