For more than a decade backpackers have made up a fair proportion of the workforce for many growers, but turnover of workers is always an issue.
Those on working holidaymaker visas mostly aspire to work for three months in order to qualify to stay in our great country another year. Unfortunately they often leave after having achieved that goal and have to be replaced.
Recent announcements by the Prime Minister have extended the options to include a third year, after working for six months in horticulture in the second year. This may provide a little more stability but it is yet to be seen how many backpackers want to stay for three full years.
The Harvest Trail program coordinates seasonal worker supply and attracts a lot of backpackers looking for work, as well as grey nomads, students during holidays, and regular Aussie pickers.
Operated nationally by MADEC on behalf of the government, it provides an effective service to register vacancies and direct workers to horticulture employers at no cost to either.
MADEC has run this successful program for over 15 years and fills vacancies from the many hundreds, or even thousands, of genuine enquiries received weekly.
A key feature of the Harvest Trail is ease of use. A simple phone call to the National Call Centre on 1800 062 332 is all that is needed for a vacancy to be listed.
Jobs can also be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Call Centre operates 8am to 8pm (EST) Monday to Friday and is based in the citrus producing region of Mildura, so staff know the industry well.
Vacancies are listed on the website www.harvesttrail.gov.au and interested callers will respond. Suitable ones will be forwarded to the employer either by phone or email, whichever is preferred.
Jobs are often filled within hours, but when listing vacancies growers need to be realistic and consider how many people are needed, the skills required, the location of the farm, and resources available to travel to and live in the area. Listing a couple of weeks in advance is desirable.
To improve the chance of getting workers, growers can consider providing some basic facilities.
A grassy patch on the farm with access to a basic shower and toilet is often considered a highly desirable option for adventurous travellers.
Charging a fee can see costs of setting up a campsite recouped but still remain low enough to attract budget conscious backpackers.
Older caravans can be picked up quite cheaply and are more substantial than a tent or campervan and a more solid option during the winter season.
Providing this on farm, especially if there is no hostel within reasonable travel distance, can attract a workforce that is highly accessible.
The Harvest Trail program is provided by government to support horticulture so the industry should take advantage and use it.
Peter Angel is SA state manager for the National Harvest Labour Information Service with MADEC.