A Riverina farmer has taken to the social media platform Twitter to recruit harvest workers.
- Agricultural employers are starting their search for grain harvest staff early
- Harvest labour is in short supply due to the ongoing COVID-19 border restrictions
- Some agricultural employers are offering incentives, above hourly pay rates to attract workers
Rendall Groat and his family operate Bonelah Pastoral Company and usually source farm workers from Canada and Denmark for their Rankins Springs farm at harvest, but with COVID-19 border restrictions in place, he has put the call out early to the Australian workforce.
“I’m just trying a few avenues to try and target uni students and a few other potential applicants who just needs some work over the summer holidays,” Mr Groat said.
“We are not an overly massive operation, and usually we can do most of the stuff ourselves, but just in these busy times, we need extra help,” he said.
Mr Groat said they weren’t seeking people with a whole lot of skills as he could train them on the job.
“We really just need the basics — drivers for headers and chaser bins to start,” he said.
“And then, depending on how many applicants we get, we could look at filling roles such as cooks.
“But just to get the basic staff, we would be grateful for.”
Large grain handling companies, such as GrainCorp, started recruiting harvest staff last month as many areas are preparing for another bumper crop.
Mr Groat anticipated that large companies and farmers would also be scrambling for staff, particularly when harvest ramps up mid-October.
“We’re just trying to get in early to try and beat the rush, and hopefully, we can get what we need,” he said.
To attract workers to the property, six hours west of Sydney, Mr Groat offered competitive hourly pay rates, accommodation and a work vehicle.
“There are going to be a lot of roles that need filling, and everyone’s going to be in the same boat, so we’ll have to accommodate for that.”
Mr Groat said to conquer the seasonal worker shortage, some farmers in his area had employed more permanent staff.
“It’s another avenue to look at, but it is hard to try and accommodate permanent staff for work for 12 months of the year,” he said.
Recruit and retain workers
Occupational therapist Esther Petrie, a consultant with Agrifocused in the Riverina, said there were ways employers could make their workplaces more appealing to agricultural workers.
To recruit more staff, Ms Petrie said many employers were offering extras above hourly wages.
She said Agrifocused put a small survey on its Facebook page at the last harvest and asked what sort of extras employers were offering to help attract staff.
She said the laundry, meals and accommodation were provided on top of a competitive pay rate.
“It shows that it is so competitive, and it’s the little things you can do to make the conditions more appealing and more pleasant do make a difference.”
Ms Petrie said employers should also look at ways to retain staff once they have recruited them in such a competitive market.
She said once staff had been recruited, errorless learning on the job was key to retaining staff.
“The more that you can provide clear communication and training; demonstrate clearly what you want people to do and how you want them to go about it; build on their strengths and skills, that’s the best way to develop your own quality workforce,” Ms Petrie said.
Ms Petrie said how an employer handles stress, and workplace mistakes could determine if a worker returned the next season.
“But I’m not sure how well that actually flies if you’re hoping people are going to come back again, especially if they’re not your immediate family,” she said.
She said employers needed to state the obvious and communicate clearly from the outset.
“Just be careful how you approach mistakes or miscommunications, then I think you’re on the road to creating the kind of environment that people want to come back to again or want to stick around.”
Plenty of work if it’s a bumper harvest
While it’s too early to call, Rendall Groat hoped for a big harvest.
“The crops are looking good. We were very lucky to have a good break,” he said.
“Now we’re just waiting for the spring to finish them off, and it’s looking promising.”
He said more rain was needed in spring as there was still some room in the moisture profile.
“The rain has been pretty ideal, and if we could get another couple of inches of rain later in the season, we could potentially have a bigger year than last year,” Mr Groat said.