Finished high school? Craving travel and adventure?
Being a “farmaroo” in Australia is one way for farm kids to trade their farming skills and work ethic for an extended trip Down Under.
“It’s a new way for young people to work, learn, and see Australia,” said Carling Henderson, who worked for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives in Clandeboyne before moving to Oz to join her fiancé two years ago.
Henderson has travelled around Canada in recent weeks on behalf of Australian labour recruiter Dodgshun Medlin Regional Placements. Any Canadian aged 18 to 30, and who has no dependents or criminal record, is eligible for a one-year working holiday visa that costs $270 in Australian dollars (which are currently virtually at par with the loonie) and can be extended for an additional year.
And anyone with farm experience and willing to work hard will be welcomed with open arms, said Danny Conlin, an Australian farmer who also works for Dodgshun Medlin, an accounting firm that has branched out into agronomy, financial planning and recruiting.
“We have a particular problem over harvest and seeding to find workers,” said Conlin.
Those able to drive “chaser bins” and “headers” – grain carts and combines – are particularly in demand, he added.
“A lot of our farmers are working 16- to 18-hour days over four to six weeks to try to get that done.”
Under the program offered by Dodgshun Medlin, farm workers pay a one-time fee of AU$2,500 plus $250 in taxes, with half payable upon acceptance and the rest in instalments over the first working period. They are responsible for arranging their own working holiday visa and return airfare, and must pay an additional AU$330 for Australian health insurance coverage.
In exchange for the fee, the company lines up jobs with the 25 modern, well-equipped farm families that belong to its program, two days of safety training at Longerengong Agriculture College near Melbourne, and above-average pay rates of at least AU$18 per hour.
Most placements last six to eight weeks, or until seeding or harvesting is complete. After that, the workers can either pick up another harvest or seeding stint, or roam about the country and see the sights. Australian taxes are deducted at a rate of about 30 per cent, but foreign workers can apply to have them refunded.
The farm families in the program are vetted by the company on the basis of the quality of their equipment and worker accommodations. The farms range in size from 3,500 to 38,000 acres, and generally crop canola, wheat, barley or chickpeas, and use ultra-modern, GPS-guided equipment.
“It’s all about getting a job before you leave Canada so you have something set up and you know what you are doing as soon as you get there,” said Henderson. “We make it easy for you to come to the country.”
Paycheques are issued by Dodgshun Medlin, so workers can’t be exploited by unscrupulous operators. New arrivals are set up with a bank account and a pre-paid mobile phone.
Harvest runs from late October to December and seeding begins in April and runs into May.
Cost of living? The farm hosts provide food and free accommodation. And a pitcher of beer in local pubs costs about AU$3.50.
For holidaying around the country, many visiting workers buy a cheap car, or purchase an open bus and train ticket good for one year that allows them to “jump on and off” at various sites throughout Australia.
“You can keep coming back and work for us again and again,” said Henderson. “Say after your first six weeks you go off to Bondi Beach for Christmas and spend a bit too much money, just give me a call. There’s always a farmer who needs help.”
Henderson admitted adventurous types who want to save on the company fees can apply for the working holiday visa on their own and find their own job upon arrival in Australia, but said that the extra cost of joining the program is worth it in her view because it protects workers from being exploited.