From tanks to tractors: Former soldiers mobilised for harvest duty

NSW Farmers is enlisting the help of former Australian Defence Force servicemen and women to help harvest bumper crops during the pandemic

With border restrictions leaving farmers struggling to find harvest workers, Operation Grain Harvest Assist will meet the pressing national need to harvest winter grain crops. 

Run by former-ADF volunteers in collaboration with state farming organisations including NSW Farmers, the initiative uses a dedicated Facebook page to connect former and retired ADF personnel with farmers, contract harvesters and grain supply chain businesses.

NSW Farmers’ Grains Committee Chair Matthew Madden said with ongoing border restrictions continuing to limit workforce availability, local workers will need to play more of a role in upcoming grain harvests.

“We’re set for another bumper crop after years of drought, but the NSW grains industry is expected to have a shortfall of around 1000 workers,” Mr Madden said. 

“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.

“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.”

Operation Grain Harvest Assist is one of many initiatives aimed at beefing up the agriculture workforce as industries such as grains and horticulture face significant labour shortages for the second consecutive year amid COVID-19 related travel restrictions.

“NSW Farmers has recently released our 10-point plan calling for government assistance in curbing the worker shortages,” Mr Madden said.

“Our plan includes measures such as fast-tracking the approval of workers under the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme, attracting domestic workers through incentives such as HECS relief, and short-term financial aid to make farm and regional workplaces, transport and accommodation COVID-19 safe.”

Operation Grains Harvest Assist commenced on Monday, September 6 and farmers are urged to register their worker needs via

To view the NSW Farmers' 10-point plan, click here.

Date: Tuesday, September 2021
Media Contact:  Michael Burt  | 0428 228 988 |