How to find farm work
Best hiring periods
There’s work year-round in the agriculture sector but summer is the prime hiring period.
Note that for some fruit picking jobs, one drop of rain means the end of the workday. Keep Australia’s climate zones in mind if you’re almost broke, desperate for a job and want to avoid being laid off for operational reasons (i.e. heavy rain!).
The northern section of Australia has a more tropically influenced climate, hot and humid in the summer, warm and dry in the winter. Most rain falls in the northeastern coastal parts (Darwin), with an annual average of 100 inches or more. Tropical cyclones can occur between November and April, causing heavy wind and rainstorms. The southern parts are cooler with mild summers and cool, sometimes rainy winters.
- New South Wales: work available year-round, with summer as the prime hiring season.
- Queensland: work available year-round.
- Victoria: mostly from November to April.
- Tasmania: mostly from November to April, but there’s also demand for winter work (especially pruning grapes).
- South Australia: the prime hiring season is from October/November and there’s usually work until winter, in July/August.
- Western Australia: since it’s not a rainy state, work is technically available year-round.
- Northern Territory: avoid looking for a job between November and March because it can rain up to 20 days/month. Depending on the year, there can be work until December—check before you go!
Read chapter 10 for more details on opportunities per month and per region.
Job hunting methods
To job hunt effectively, you will probably have to combine several approaches. Let’s review them!
Walk-in and ask
Ever heard of “cold calling”? Most job vacancies don’t appear in print or online, so it makes sense to contact prospective employers directly to explore opportunities. In the agricultural sector, it also means going from farm to farm in person and introducing yourself. Make sure to look enthusiastic and confident—it helps if you prepare your “elevator pitch” ahead of time.
Note that many farms are in remote areas, so it helps if you have your own vehicle or if you travel with other job seekers.
Smaller farms may not need tons of casual employees, so you may be the only backpacker around. It could be a great way to discover another side of Australia but be prepared for quieter evenings than if you were on a busy farm with dozens of other temp employees.
Local newspapers and bulletin boards
There’s always less competition when ads aren’t published online.
Read the local paper (often available in libraries!) or keep an eye on supermarket bulletin boards when you go grocery shopping.
You may also notice billboards right outside farms. Typical keywords include “help wanted,” “now hiring,” “seeking local workers,” etc.
Calling or emailing farms
If you’re heading to a specific area and you know it’s harvest time, list local farms and contact them by email or by phone. Don’t forget Yellow Pages still exist, don’t just rely on Google!
Spend some time polishing your script or email template beforehand for more efficient job searching.
Networking and word-of-mouth recommendations
Go out and meet new people, locals and backpackers alike! Networking leads to information, i.e. who is hiring right now and where to go for the best job prospects. You will also get first-hand tips before you even start working.
Hostels and camp sites are probably the best place to meet other backpackers. To meet Australians in small communities, shop locally and learn to master the fine art of small talk. Newcomers are easy to spot in small towns—make the first move, be friendly and outgoing and soon you will know who is hiring!
Using a farm job website
The online world can be a precious job search tool. Check out the following websites!
- JobActive—Harvest job for job seekers: Jobactive is a Government of Australia website that connects job seekers with employers. There is a dedicated farm work section—enter a crop, a location (state or region) and click on “Search” to see available positions. Note that it’s best to do some prep work and know harvest periods, there’s very little chance anyone is picking bananas in Alice Spring in January.
- Gumtree: The popular online classified advertisement and community website has job section (go to “Farming and Veterinary”). Heads up, pretty much everyone keeps an eye on Gumtree, expect a lot of competition.
- Backpacker Job board has a “Fruit picking” section. You need to register (it’s free) to apply.
- Facebook groups: There are tons of backpacker groups. Enter “backpacker + [name of the city where you want to find a job]” and you should find your new community. Some large farms or agricultural coops also have their own fruit picking vacancies Facebook groups.
- Membership-based job communities: Many websites offer to connect pickers and farmers for a fee, look for them on Google if you’re interested.
Using the Harvest Trail service
Harvest Trail is a Government of Australia service that links job seekers with harvest jobs Australia-wide. As mentioned above, you can use jobactive to look for opportunities online, but you can also call the toll-free number: 1800 062 332 (fees may apply if you’re calling from a cellphone).
When you call this number, a Harvest Trail employee will ask you where you’re located to give you info on the local job market and maybe a few contacts. Don’t expect to stay on the line for hours to get the name of all farms from Darwin to Sydney—the info provided will be for your region only.
The free National Harvest Guide is a great tool to review before calling, with up-to-date info on harvest work, working conditions, transport and accommodation. The latest version (June 2019) is available in PDF and DocX.
Note that there’s a “News Flash” section on jobactive with the latest vacancies—worth checking out!
Dialling 1800 062 332 is probably not the most efficient way to look for a job but you can get lucky if you’re at the right place at the right time!
Staying in a “working hostel”
In Australia (and in New Zealand), some hostels run job-finding services for backpackers on a WHV. These places typically offer the chance to live with like-minded travellers (i.e. people who probably have to get up in the morning to go to work and won’t party all night in the dorm…), weekly rates and maybe a carpooling service to get to the work site.
Working hostels usually collaborate with local employers by putting them in contact with potential employees (i.e. backpackers like you). Sometimes, local employers only hire through a working hostel so you can’t even get a job through other methods.
Staying in a working hostel comes with a few caveats:
- The job-matching service is often free if you stay in that working hostel, usually for the duration of your employment.
- You may have to commit to stay and work for a few weeks.
- You won’t get to choose your employer or your job, you’ll be assigned both by the working hostel.
- Working hostels can’t guarantee you a job—supply and demand apply and they work on a first-come-first-served basis.
- Work is never guaranteed, especially if your job is weather dependent. You could be stuck in a working hostel for a few days without pay if it’s raining constantly.
A number of backpackers report that working hostels tend to overestimate the number of casual employees needed, especially in Bundaberg and Mildura. Check forums and talk to other backpackers to see which working hostels are serious and well run!
Using a labour hire provider
Labour hire providers, including staffing agencies and employment services, can find you farm work for a few days, weeks or months. A few of them are recognized by the Government of Australia, they are often listed on Harvest Trail when they have opportunities.
MADEC, a community-based not-for-profit business, is one of the largest networks with field offices in Victoria (Mildura, Robinvale, Swan Hill, Shepparton), South Australia (Renmark, Mt Barket) and New South Wales (Griffith) and contacts with employers in these regions.
The Job Shop is an accredited employment agency with casual, medium-term and permanent positions in the agricultural sector. They have offices in Western Australia (Perth and Kununurra) and the Northern Territory (Darwin and Katherine). The Job Shop may also have positions in Queensland and occasionally in other parts of Australia.
Using a labour hire contractor
In Australia, anyone can get an Australian Business Number (ABN), start a company and provide a client with seasonal workers for fruit picking, pruning, planting, etc. work. This is what a labour hire contractor does—providing employees and dealing with human resources obligations. These middlemen supplying employees are usually found in regions without labour hire providers.
Labour hire contractors operate freely without much oversight. Some respect labour standards while other create their own—and guess what, this version is rarely in favour of backpackers. If you get a labour hire contractor contact, do a throughout background search using the phone number and names of the business owners in order to gather feedback.
In South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, labour hire contractors must be licensed to operate legally in the state. As part of the process, a background check (e.g. a “fit and proper person assessment” in Victoria) is performed to make sure the contractor has never been found to have contravened a workplace law, labour hire industry law or minimum accommodation standard, etc. This requirement is relatively new but it should help make sure contractors comply with taxation laws, superannuation laws, occupational health and safety laws, worker’s compensation laws, etc.
The bar is pretty low—usually, willingness to perform the tasks without complaining and a minimum level of physical fitness are enough. Don’t worry if you’re not fluent (yet!) in English or if you don’t have previous farm work experience! As long as you’re willing to learn and work hard, you’ll be fine.
If you have a hard time understanding instructions at first—the vocabulary can be new and technical—, try to find a work buddy who can show you the ropes and speaks your mother tongue.
Is finding farm work difficult?
A few years (or decades) ago, there were more apples in trees than backpackers willing to pick them. Nowadays, expect competition, especially for more desirable jobs, regions and crops. Australia is a popular WHV destination and many backpackers try to meet the requirements for a second Working Holiday Visa.
Should I move for a job opportunity?
You came to Australia to explore the country, but should you move for a job? The typical scenario goes like this—you saw an ad or you got a tip about opportunity in [insert random town you’ve never heard about], you Google the place and realize it’s halfway across the country. Are you taking a chance and the next overnight bus to find out if there are work opportunities?
Get used to it—Australia is a big country. It may come as a shock if you’re from Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. but a ten-hour drive is a short drive by local standards.
That said, before travelling to another state or region, make sure there are indeed better work opportunities for you. For instance, don’t trust working hostel ads—they tend to overestimate the number of workers required and there may not be a job waiting for you when you arrive. Review the National Harvest Guide to check fruit picking seasons and try to find other farms and contacts nearby in case plan A doesn’t work out.
Travelling across the country may be worth it as long as you do some prep work and have a plan B (… and a plan C). Don’t just trust one business, hostel or contact who promises a job.
Main articles about the WHV to Australia
16 Good Reasons to Apply for a Working Holiday Visa
The Working Holiday Visa Adventure as a Solo Traveller
Applying for a Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417) To Australia: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide with Screenshots
Globe WHV insurance policy highlights
Your first steps in Australia with a Working Holiday Visa
15 Tips for a Successful WHV Experience
Working in Australia: Opportunities, tips for backpackers and job search advice
Fruit Picking Jobs in Australia: What, Where, How (and Why!)