THE GRAINS industry is feverishly working to find tens of thousands of harvest casuals to fill roles both on farm and at grain receival sites.
While the harsh COVID-19 travel restrictions that wreaked havoc for the last two seasons have been lifted industry sources have said positions in both harvesting and bulk handling sectors will remain tough to fill, especially in more remote locations as the nation gears up for yet another bumper harvest.
Major bulk handlers across the country have confirmed they will require over 7500 workers for the harvest period, with many more needed to operate smaller independent storage facilities.
Similar number of short-term casuals are required to help farmers and contractors in the paddock to take the crop off, meaning the grains industry is looking outside the square to get staff in.
Last year Grain Producers Australia launched Operation Grain Assist, which targeted former servicemen and grey nomads to try and fill the gap left by the lack of international backpackers.
This year, bulk handlers such as GrainCorp and Cargill's GrainFlow are working hard on recruitment drives to ensure they have sufficient staff come harvest.
GrainCorp has said it will need 3400 harvest casuals and has already been actively recruiting, especially for the 400 positions in Queensland, where the Central Queensland harvest will begin within weeks.
The rural workforce crisis has been a talking point at a federal government level, being a critical point of discussion at this week's jobs summit.
For its part GrainCorp has said it is launching new initiatives to try and attract staff, especially focusing on more remote parts of its network.
The bulk handler said areas such as the Victorian Mallee and far north-western NSW were traditionally more difficult to find staff to fill positions.
It said it was running an active digital recruitment campaign to demonstrate what working in the grains industry was like, along with offering a portable accommodation allowance of $40 per day for people who can secure their own campsite near an eligible GrainCorp site and providing on-site accommodation in some locations.
Through Western Australia, which has been particularly reliant on international workers to help with grain harvest historically, CBH said it was looking for 2000 staff while in SA Viterra will seek 1500 workers.
Analysts are forecasting there will be a big crop to move for a third consecutive year.
Ikon Commodities last week came out with an estimate of a winter crop of 55 million tonnes, with a 35 million tonne wheat crop, both figures pushing close to all-time records.
Recruitment firm Programmed, working on behalf of GrainFlow, Cargill's bulk handling network, which has sites across four states, is highlighting the global importance of the Australian harvest in its campaign to attract workers.
"Grab a mate, grab your partner, and join the harvest in coming months to help Australian farmers feed the world," Programmed executive general manager for skilled workforce David Hele said.
He said Aussie grain played a critical role in providing nutrition for people globally.
"You will be helping to create about 88 billion meals, which would feed every man, woman and child in the world 11 times over," Mr Hele said.
He emphasised there were roles for every skill set, such as grain handlers, sample stand staff, weighbridge workers and plant operators, and that training could be provided on site for many of the positions.
In particular, Programmed is targeting university students, with harvest in many regions fitting in with university holidays.
"For most roles, no previous experience is necessary, and workers can earn up to $7,500 over a 4-8 week period between September and January, which is ideal timing for many university students.
GrainFlow's largest amount of vacancies will be through NSW and Victoria.
On the production side, rural noticeboards on social media have been lit up with farmers and contractors searching for harvest staff.
One of the major concerns has been the prospect of a wet harvest, which means the orderly north to south flow of grain maturity, which allows contractors to harvest each region in its own window, will disrupted, meaning large areas are being harvested at the same time, in turn putting pressure on labour availability.