Western Australian Wheatbelt farmers are struggling to find local workers and are employing backpackers for seasonal employment.
InkWire surveyed all 19 growers within the Wheatbelt town Tammin, located 184km east of Perth, on farmers employing backpackers within their 1087km2 shire district.
The survey showed that 34 per cent of casual employees in the 2014 season were backpackers from six different countries, with Ireland providing the most backpacker workers at 33 per cent of the 39 casual seasonal-employees.
Local employer Dustan McCeery employs three, local full-time workers at the Chatfields tree nursery. He said five of his 12 casual employees were backpackers.
“Not enough local staff are available for the size of our business, especially it being a seasonal business,” he said.
Mr McCeery said changes in local agriculture were part of the reason.
“There’s no roustabouting around anymore,” he said.
“If you had sheep rousts around they could work for us for six months and roust about for the last half of year or [do] something else, but the problem is it’s seasonal work.”
According to the Department of Agriculture and Food, sheep flocks have dropped from 25 million to 14.5 million in six years, the biggest change since since the 1950s.
Farmers need employees to seed and harvest their crops for the growing season.
Not Too Dusty Water Cart proprietor Colin Hutchinson says he finds local workers either on Gumtree or through word-of-mouth.
“If there was someone local we would hire them, but there isn’t anyone near us as we live so far from town,” he said.
“You have to make sure they are able to stay for the period of time you need them, sometimes they want to go travelling, especially if you are waiting for rain.”
According to the Department of Immigration, on September 30, 2013 the number of working holiday visas totalled 196,450 with primary visa holders equivalent to almost one per cent of the Australian labour force.
Western Australia ranked second to New South Wales for working holiday visa holders, almost 33,000 from June 30, 2012.
Images: Courtney Thomson