Brakes on harvest

THERE are fears a looming shortage of machinery drivers could hamper harvesting this season.

A lack of skilled international workers and backpackers is beginning to hit home for the upcoming season.

Peter Radford, one of Tasmania’s largest harvesting operators, said the business was already struggling to find enough drivers for the upcoming season and the situation would only get worse.

“This year I can see it’s going to be a real struggle,” he said.

“I’ve probably got 15 or so guys in England that would love to come out, but we can’t get them here.

“I don’t know the way around it. The reality is it’s going to be an ongoing issue.”

Mr Radford, who runs harvesting operations interstate and in Tasmania, said last season a number of backpackers remained in the country who arrived in 2019, but now, due to the COVID pandemic, most of them had returned home.

Agricultural Contractors of Tasmania chairman Peter Campbell said the shortage of machinery drivers was an issue for the organisation’s members.

“Where do you find skilled operators capable of operating machinery, that’s the problem we’ve got,” Mr Campbell said.

He said many farmers would not be aware of the issue but it could have ramifications for the state’s harvest season.

“It’s like most things, we don’t think it’s a problem until we can’t do it,” he said.

“It’s definitely a concern across a lot of industries and the rural sector is no different, we need more people.”

Mr Radford normally employs one third of his workforce from Tasmania, one third from Europe or Britain and some based interstate.

This season he said the lack of international workers meant many mainland-based drivers had already been snapped up.

During the mainland harvest, he would normally run 12 machines with a team of 18 employees but this year he may be unable to run a full team.

He said the best option now was to try to recruit older farmers or interested people in Tasmania who might want to give the mainland harvest a go.

“We don’t necessarily need anyone with experience, if you’ve got reasonable hand-eye coordination you can drive a header,” he said.

His team starts harvesting with wheat crops in early October in Queensland, where one client has 160,000 acres.

“For farmers from Tassie, if they want to come up for a look, it’s a real eye-opener,” Mr Radford said.

After that the team moves to northern NSW before gradually working their way south to finish up just before Christmas.

Tasmanian harvesting starts in early January and includes crops such as poppies and pyrethrum and cereals such as wheat and hemp.

Mr Radford said the lack of drivers and operators was going to be a big longer-term issue and could lead to less hay and silage being cut as well.

“I’ll probably get local guys good enough to get us through for the next three years, but after that I don’t know how it will go.”

To find out more about harvesting opportunities call Mr Radford on 0419 140 991.

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