Farm Army

MANY farmers might tell you that in the depths of the drought, there weren’t many differences between their paddocks and the landscape on Mars.

Dust storms, dirt to the horizon, and negligible signs of life.

But the nation’s farms didn’t just appear like the red planet; they sounded like it too. Both in space, and in the paddock, no one can hear you shout.

Our farmers have been working around the clock for years, but things keep getting tighter.

Among all the muck farmers have to deal with, there’s one issue that’s been exacerbated these past few years.

An agricultural worker shortage has caused cries of frustration across the country.

Border closures, travel restrictions, visa shortages and low employment rates mean farmers are once again, going it alone in the paddock.

Farm Army volunteer cleans up flood debris

Queensland farmer *Pauline is exhausted. Flood, drought, mouse plague, personal injury and Covid-19 have been like successive knife twists for the pumpkin grower.

“We couldn’t find any help. We would normally employ people but with the mouse plague here, the mice were eating our pumpkins faster than we could get them picked. We tried to find local workers but we couldn’t get backpackers and nobody could take us up on the paid work. We found it really difficult,” she said.

Pauline approached Rural Aid for some help on the farm, with the charity’s Farm Army program providing a solution.

Rural Aid’s Farm Army is an online platform where farmers list jobs they need a hand with, and volunteers and workers apply for the tasks.

“With the Farm Army, we had someone who was able to come and help us pick pumpkins. It was a life-saver. Just to have another person on deck for my husband to work with….. it just made such a difference to us,” Pauline said.

“With the covid stuff and time restraints, we haven’t had a chance to go out at all and have been probably quite isolated. But to have people on the farm, especially people who have a sense of farming, it just makes so much difference emotionally,” Pauline said.

“Everything that gives you a bit of hope, helps you to keep going,” she said.

Pauline is still looking for help on the farm, as are thousands of other growers and graziers across Australia.

Retirees Sandra and Peter Kearns have worked their way across Australia with help from the Farm Army.

“We were looking for something other than just being on the road and travelling on the road, we were looking for something meaningful, something rewarding,” said Peter.

“We’ve helped muster sheep, crutch sheep and we looked after farmer’s kids. We helped with schooling, baking and cooking,” Sandra said.

The couple said the farmer’s jobs aren’t rocket science; most of the time, the farmers just need an extra set of hands.

“A farmer said ‘How much do you know about sheep?’ I said, ‘Well they’re about 14.99 a kilo!’,” Peter joked.

Peter and Sandra described meeting ‘real, grounded’ people through their bush travels as a highlight. They’ve even made precious lifelong friends through Farm Army; both fellow travellers and down-to-earth cockies.

Rural Aid CEO John Warlters said farmers really are as tough as they come, and often find it hard to ask for help.

“Farmers are just so used to getting on with things, and getting the job done on their own; for better or worse, they often just stick it out till they’re busted,” John said.

“So you know when they do yell out for a helping hand, they really are in a bit of strife.”

Harvest jobs, truck driving work, farmhand tasks and caretaking and housesitting roles regularly pop up on the site. Many farmers offer free, powered accommodation and meals as part of the deal.

Registered primary producers advertise both paid and volunteer roles.

More than 10,000 Aussies are already signed up as Farm Army members and regularly receive job updates. But the Rural Aid CEO points out that the charity has about 16,000 farmers in its community.

John Warlters said more volunteers are desperately needed to fill the gaps.

“I urge any traveller to consider pitching in on a farm, while pitching your bed there too,” John said.

“Even contributing one day’s work can just make a world of difference to our farmers.”

For more information, check out the Farm Army website

Note: *Pauline has asked Rural Aid to withhold her last name.

Rural Aid has no involvement in the job description or selection beyond providing a platform for a job to be advertised.

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