Former Australian servicemen and women have swapped tanks for tractors – in a bid to relieve pressure on Queensland farmers crippled by COVID-19 workforce shortages.
Operation Grain Harvest Assist launched nationwide today (Thursday 26 August 2021), and will see Aussie veterans stationed on grain farms throughout the state – bolstering the supply of local workers to help with this year’s bumper grains harvest.
With increased workforce shortages limiting many parts of Australia’s grains supply chain, the initiative (a joint collaboration between AgForce, WA Farmers, ex Australian Defence Force servicemen and women, and Grains Producers Australia) will recruit willing workers with the transferable skills needed to operate heavy machinery and carry out other harvesting jobs.
AgForce Grains Board President Brendan Taylor said the operation was much needed in Queensland, and thanked veterans for putting their shoulders to the wheel during tough times.
“The second consecutive year of this global COVID pandemic is presenting many complex challenges to manage for grain producers, especially securing enough workers to harvest and optimise the value of what’s forecast to be a $15 billion grains crop,” he said.
“It really helps to ease the burden when ex-defence force personnel reach out like this, and their help is very much appreciated.”
Retired Royal Australian Armoured Corps Lieutenant Colonel Garry Spencer AM said the initiative was a “win win” for everyone involved.
“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 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 by giving them the option to get out and work on farms, thus creating a sense of satisfaction and valuable income at this vital time.
“Driving a tank or piloting aircraft in a military manoeuvre is surely a great segue to working on farms and using heavy machinery such as harvesters with auto-steer, GPS guidance and air-conditioning.”
Mr Spencer said the priority was to ensure the “troops” received proper support, guidance and advice, through volunteer co-ordinators available throughout the operation.
Two Facebook pages will link workers to harvest jobs – one for farms in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and the other for WA and SA.
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.
Mr Taylor said Operation Grain Harvest Assist complemented other strategic policy initiatives pursued by AgForce to help battle serious labour shortages and deliver short and long-term outcomes.