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From tanks to grain trucks: Former soldiers mobilised for bumper harvest

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Craig Taylor, a farmer in Young, NSW, was one of the first to sign up for a new initiative connecting former Australian Defence Force (ADF) servicemen and women to help harvest bumper crops during the pandemic.

On the dedicated Facebook page for Operation Grain Harvest Assist, which now has more than 1300 members, Young says he “has the truck and dog ready to go when you are”.

A free three-bedroom house is also part of the package awaiting the right heavy combination truck driver who may well have driven a tank in their former life.

Run by former-ADF volunteers in collaboration with state farming organisations, including NSW Farmers, Operation Grain Harvest Assist aims to help plug the serious shortfall of harvest workers around Australia due to the ongoing border restrictions.

“The availability of seasonal workers has dropped drastically since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, while inconsistent rules around interstate travel have further reduced confidence in our ability to shore up an adequate workforce in time for harvest,” said Matthew Madden, chair of the NSW Farmers’ grains committee.

“We need a timely and successful harvest and the experience of former ADF servicemen and women in areas such as heavy machinery handling will make them ideal candidates for grain harvest roles, many of which are skilled or semi-skilled.”

Grain Producers Australia (GPA) chief executive Colin Bettles said there has been a major positive response to Operation Grains Harvest Assist, with retired Royal Australian Armoured Corps Lieutenant Colonel Garry Spencer leading the charge.

“This initiative is not only taking immediate pressure off farming communities, it’s also giving retired and former ADF personnel a greater sense of purpose, as well as a valuable source of income by using their transferable skills and experiences to operate heavy machinery or perform other vital tasks during this year’s grains harvest,” Bettles tells aboutregional.com.au.

Workers and employees participating in Operation Grain Harvest Assist also have the opportunity to access financial support from the federal government’s AgMove program when they relocate to take up short-term agricultural work.

Participants looking to work on farms and deliver the grains harvest can contact the Harvest Trail Information Service (HTIS) to see if they qualify for AgMove to help cover their relocation costs.

For Australian workers, this includes relocation costs of up to $2000 which can be reimbursed by the HTIS after employees complete at least 40 hours of work in at least two weeks. Up to a further $4000 can be reimbursed for relocation costs when employees continue to work and complete a total of at least 120 hours of work in at least four weeks.

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