Although Australia is a relatively dry continent, agriculture makes a significant contribution to the nation’s economy. More than 50% of land use in Australia is dedicated to agricultural production, with significant employment available in the sector. Work and career opportunities range from entry-level jobs to highly skilled and trained professional positions.
There are numerous opportunities for seasonal employees in agriculture. Typically, much of this work is undertaken by back-packers, often from Europe who undertake short term employment to fund their travels, and in order to qualify for a second-year visa. Travel restrictions in 2020 have slowed the arrival of overseas travellers, including backpackers, creating a shortfall in seasonal labour and numerous opportunities for Australians. Some seasonal opportunities available include:
Fruit picking – Fruit ripens at different times of the year depending on the type of fruit and the local conditions. Vineyards, orchards, strawberry farms and plantations all employ seasonal workers to assist with fruit picking during peak times. Although the work is relatively short term, a good picker can earn a substantial wage.
Seeding and harvesting – Wheat and other grain crops are one of the mainstays of agriculture in Australia. During the growing season, relatively little work is required. However, seeding and harvesting are both extremely busy times of the year for farmers, and additional workers are often employed. Both seeding and harvesting use mechanised equipment including tractors, harvesters and trucks. Workers with experience operating heavy machinery are preferred for seeding and harvest work. Roles include tractor and chaser bin drivers, as well as truck drivers to carry the harvest to storage facilities. Harvesting, in particular, involves long working hours as it’s essential to harvest at the optimum time.
Livestock work – Mustering cattle or sheep on station properties is carried out several times a year. Animals left to roam and graze freely for most of the year are brought in for routine care, health checks, or to be loaded on trucks ready for market. Horses, motorbikes, quad bikes and helicopters are used to muster livestock. Mustering work requires skill and understanding of animal behaviour.
Shearing is carried out once a year. There are numerous opportunities for skilled shearers, roustabouts, shed hands and wool classers. Shearing can be learned ‘on the job’ or through a TAFE course and traineeship. Wool classing is offered as a TAFE course/traineeship which takes nine months to complete. Wool classers are responsible for grading and sorting fleeces based on length, colour, evenness, strength and quality and ensuring they are placed in the correct bail. Wool classes can also work as wool valuers in the wool broking industry – selecting fleeces and bails for the export market.
Opportunities for on-going workers are also available in agriculture. These include farmhands, farm managers and specialist roles. Farmhand and manager roles are generally live-in positions. Ideal for those seeking a rural lifestyle. While some farm hand roles may be supervised and provide opportunities to learn, farm management roles require experience.
Specialist and consultant jobs in agriculture such as agronomists, soil scientists and livestock management require University qualifications. A good starting point to become an agricultural specialist is to complete a degree in Agriculture with emphasis on your field of interest. It’s likely that you will need to undertake additional post-graduate study to become recognised in your chosen field.
Sustainability issues are a concern for many farmers as drought, reduced rainfall and dryland and irrigation salinity have significant implications for land availability, production and profits. Agricultural research and specialists have a vital role to play in transforming agricultural practices for the future. Given the significance of agriculture for the Australian economy, work opportunities will be plentiful.