For backpackers out there on a Working Holiday Visa and planning to get your second/third year, working on a farm is inevitable and may also be the most challenging part of your Working Holiday. While we had no intentions of getting our second year visa, we did end up doing farm work as we were looking for short-term/casual jobs as we travelled around Australia. Here’s some tips on finding farm work and more importantly, how to keep yourself safe out there.
1. Be aware of the harvest trail
What is the Harvest Trail? It is basically the trail of ripening fruit that harvest workers follow around Australia. Farm work is seasonal work and mostly based on the type of fruit and the climate where it is grown. For example, during winter, vineyards will be looking for casual workers to do vine pruning in preparation for the next fruiting season. Once winter is over, sub-tropical regions like Western Australia will begin the harvest of strawberries and blueberries followed by mangoes in summer. Doing some planning in advance will ensure you end up in places high in demand for harvest workers as you move around the country.
2. Join farm work/ backpacker Facebook groups
There are tons of backpackers out there like you who are looking for farm work to extend their visas as well and many of them join Facebook groups either catered to all things backpacker or groups for farm/harvest work. Farmers/recruiters may post job vacancies on these platforms or if you put up a short description of yourself and your work experience you may have someone contact you as well. Still, be wary of the offers you may receive on these platforms and always remember to do your due diligence before travelling hundreds of kilometres to find yourself in a sticky situation.
3. Get on WikiFarms/Google Maps
Another way of finding a farm job is to get on WikiFarms (you need to pay for it and have an Android phone) or trusty old Google Maps and look for farms around the area you will be at. Some of the farms will have a decent website or a phone number/email you can contact to enquire about job vacancies. We found our strawberry picking job through this method and actually heard back/had offers from a number of farms.
4. Safety first – avoid going alone
Most farms are located in rural areas hours from main cities and it is always wise to travel with a trusted friend or in a group. There have been cases of backpackers who have travelled alone to rural areas for farm work and were sexually assaulted or harmed by the farmers or other co-workers. Of course, not all farms in rural areas are dangerous but better be safe than sorry!
5. Have your own transport
Be it a simple car, 4WD or a camper van, having your own transport is a big plus point for farmers when recruiting as they are normally located in areas without public transport. This ties pretty closely to the point before as well about safety. Having your own transport means a way out should you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation and it gives you an option to look for accommodation where you like. For us, we travelled in a SUV equipped with a rooftop tent and actually lived out of a caravan park while we were working. It saved us SO MUCH money and allowed us to stay a mere 10 mins away from the vineyard we worked at. If you do not have your own transport, it is still possible for you to get a ride from other workers but it’s a real inconvenience and you do not have much freedom.
6. Avoid staying at working hostels
Many farm jobs advertised online are by working hostels that require you to stay at their hostel with the promise that they will find you a farm job in the area. I would recommend avoiding this sort of working hostels at ALL COSTS. Why? Because you will have to pay exorbitant prices for a bed in cramped dirty dormitories, your deposit will be difficult to get back and the worst part? There is no guarantees you will have a job. There have been cases of backpackers paying the insane hostel prices, going weeks without work and leaving will mean they lose their deposits as well. If you really have to, just remember to be really careful and read hostel reviews!
7. Hourly wages are rare but the best
Hourly wages is the holy grail of farm work and if you are able to find one, congrats! This means you are probably one of the lucky few. We have only done piece-rate work and no matter how “fast” or how “hard” you think you are gonna work, chances are you will not be able to hit the minimum hourly wage in the first few weeks. The thing is, piece-rate jobs are meant to exploit short-term workers and benefit farmers. You will get better at your job the longer you stay in it and should be able to hit minimum wage once you get really really really good at it. If you stay at a working hostel and work on a piece-rate, it will be really hard to make any money. We did piece-rate work and earned slightly below the minimum wage but we managed to save money by staying at a caravan park.
8. The longer you can commit the better
Firstly, farmers will prefer a 3-6 months commitment period because it’s a real hassle to keep hiring and training new workers. If you are doing farm work for your second/third year visa, it also makes better sense to stay at a single farm. Unless the farm really sucks, you will want to save yourself the trouble of job hunting and if you work long enough you might get really good at your job and could possibly earn the minimum wage.
9. Have your own waterproof boots/gear
The farms will only provide the tools required to do the job (meaning – clippers, weight scales, trays etc.) and you will need to have your own protective gear. Some basic things you will need include waterproof work boots, gloves, long pants and a large hat. You can easily get them at the work section at kmart but remember to get them before you get to the farm as you will probably be hours away from a kmart or any town. Alternatively, if you have your own it would be good to bring them but be prepared to get it really really dirty and muddy.
10. Stay hydrated and keep warm
Remember, farm work is basically manual labour in the outdoors and there is never a perfect weather. If you are working outdoors during winter, it will be really cold and having warm dry clothes is important to keep from falling sick and you will be able to work faster as well. Summer, on the other hand is hot, dry and FULL OF FLIES. Things you will need to handle summer farm work is lots of sunscreen (SPF 50), a big hat, fly net and lots and lots of water. This is so important as there have been backpackers die from heat stroke especially those coming from cooler countries. Spring and autumn are kinda the combination of the worst of summer and winter. You could start the day freezing cold (farm work starts early, like REALLY early) and by noon you will be facing summer problems with the mid-day sun. Just remember to always be prepared for any kind of weather conditions when you’re working outdoors.
All the best in your job hunt and we hope this post has been helpful!
Love it? Pin it!