Backpacker's Guide: How to Find Farm Work in Australia

Backpacker's Guide: How to Find Farm Work in Australia

26 February 2020

Magnificent beaches, red desert stretches, major cities with individual personalities, world-renowned reefs, heritage-listed rainforests and bushland that can only be described as 'Aussie'. With contrasting landscapes and incredible diversity, Australia is truly a country like no other, and for many overseas travellers, the ultimate destination for travel and exploration. 

It’s also one of the top choices for internationals chasing a working holiday experience. There are plenty of countries eligible to apply for a one year working holiday visa in Australia and some travellers love the Australian lifestyle so much, they want to stay for a second year. For most, in order to secure a second year visa, you will need to find farm work. Here's what you need to know. 

How to find farm work in Australia

irina gorskaia YnndO0D 1zg unsplash

The inevitable struggle to find farm work and secure a second year in Aus can be stressful and daunting for some backpackers. Will I have to work somewhere remote? Will the work be physically demanding? Am I actually going to work on a 'farm'? First things first, farm work doesn’t necessarily constitute work on a typical “farm”. You can start exploring eligible fields and see what type of work you're in for by heading to the Home Affairs website. This will give you an idea of the types of places that qualify for your 88 days of farm work, then you can start searching for farms from there. 

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth for finding farm work either! If you’ve already been in Australia for a few months, it’s likely no matter where you’ve travelled or been living, you’ve met a bunch of other travellers along the way. Many of them will already have gone through the same process of farm work to secure a second year visa and may be able to point you in the direction of a farm or company looking for workers. At the very least, their anecdotal information and advice will likely help you better understand what to expect and where to begin the process. 

How much do you get paid?

 pass the honey Tt2HSV6lgY unsplash

There is a difference between piece rate work and hourly paid jobs. For an average picker, you earn around $24 per hour. However, sometimes you can even make more money with piece rate work and in general, people like piece rate work (FYI piece rate work refers to the rate you get paid for the amount picked, packed, pruned or made). But, you have to keep in mind that learning and mastering a new technique can take time, and it may be a while before you start earning good money. 

10 tips to find farm work 

  1. Research. As mentioned earlier, the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs is a good place to start researching for your farm work. It contains all the relevant information on farm work types, eligibility and visa applications. 

  2. Start early. The biggest fear of most backpackers is the idea that they’ll run out of time. Start looking for work early with plenty of time to complete your 88 days before your current visa runs out. Farm work can be unpredictable, particularly when it involves seasonal work, and that will sometimes interfere with your ability to finish all your farm work on the same farm. 

  3. Give yourself extra time. Prepare for the possibility that it can take more than 3 months to get your visa days completed. Farms can be at the mercy of Australian weather, so you may not be able to work every day that you plan to. It’s also unrealistic to plan to work every single consecutive day. Give yourself some leeway around the 88 days and allow for closer to 4 months to complete your farm work if you can. 

  4. Trust yourself. Pick a farm where you feel at home - you're going to be residing here for a few months after all. You don’t want to end up at a farm where you feel uncomfortable, unhappy and isolated. If you end up working in a place that you don’t want to be, trust your instincts and move on. There is no point wasting your limited time in Australia feeling miserable, and if you’ve allowed yourself extra time, you’ll be able to find somewhere else to complete your work. 

  5. Seasons for harvesting work. If you want to do farm work and have no idea about the seasons, the harvest trail is a good place to start. They have a dedicated enquiry line that you can contact for information about open positions and ongoing/upcoming seasons. They also have a PDF version of the Harvest Guide that gives the novice backpackers insightful information into the seasons.

  6. Other sites to check out. After you’ve explored avenues through Harvest, head to Backpacker Job Board or Gumtree to broaden your search. Many small farms find their employees through Gumtree but be warned - because anyone can post through this avenue, there can be a lot of scams. So, apply an appropriate level of caution to the advertisements you find and do some research into the farm where you can, paying extra attention to bad reviews. 

  7. Facebook. Social media’s extensive capabilities to connect individuals and create opportunities grows each year, and for backpackers, this is another place to look for farm work. In several Facebook groups (i.e. holiday jobs and backpacker job board) people often post fruit picking jobs and other relevant open farm positions. 

  8. A car. Having your own vehicle and transport can be advantageous to finding farm work, increasing the scope and number of potential farms you can access. It will also give you added freedom while completing your farm work.

  9. Search beyond the popular hotspots. Finding farm work can be competitive, particularly if you have been living and working on the east coast or close to a major capital city. Ideally, everyone wants to find something close and convenient to where they’ve been living. But your best chance of finding farm work is to look where no one else is. The remoter places might turn out to be some of the most interesting travels you have in Australia too. Another tip is to stay ahead of the seasonal work. If you know the harvest season is coming in a certain part of Australia, get there early so you are prepared to work as soon as the season starts. 

  10. Keep the seasons in mind. So, during the summer period, it is best in the south of Australia and during the winter in the north of Australia. 

Eligible fields 

obada adernali IfKNVOmVVWM unsplash

Eligible fields for farm work can be more broad and diverse than you think! Work can vary from state to state, season to season and be extremely different depending on the region you are looking in. Here’s the basic breakdown: 

Work that can be counted toward your second year visa must be in the following fields:

  • plant and animal cultivation
  • fishing and pearling
  • tree farming and felling
  • mining
  • construction

Note: It is not enough that you are employed in some of these fields, but the work you do must be a specific type of work to be counted towards your visa. 

Examples of work that counts towards your visa days include:

  • harvesting and/or packing of fruit and vegetable crops
  • pruning and trimming vines and trees
  • general maintenance crop work
  • cultivating or propagating plants, fungi or their products or parts
  • feeding and herding cattle on a farm
  • horse breeding and stud farming
  • maintaining animals for the purpose of selling them or their bodily produce, including natural increase
  • immediate processing of animal products including shearing, butchery, packing and tanning
  • landscaping the grounds of construction/house site
  • painting the interior/exterior of new buildings
  • conservation and environmental reforestation work
  • zoo work involving plant or animal cultivation
  • erecting fences on a construction site
  • scaffolding

Examples of work that is not eligible include: 

  • working as a nanny on a farm
  • working at a cellar door providing wine tastings
  • general garden maintenance
  • maintaining animals for tourism or recreational purposes
  • cooking/catering on a mine site
  • town planning or architecture
  • cleaning the interior of mine complexes or buildings
  • supporting work such as book-keeping

Other sources to find farm work

 hamish weir 1 siDT315Ko unsplash

The search for farm work can be exhausting and confusing, particularly for foreigners unfamiliar with the enormity and diversity of Australia as a country. You’ll likely spend a lot of time on google, searching farms and sending bulk emails. Sometimes, the farms don’t get back to you because the website is non-existent, or it’s a scam (unfortunate, but true). For this reason, it is important to also consider some other sources of information during your farm work search. Some towns might have information centres and these places can sometimes contain news about local farms or seasonal work nearby (especially if there are a lot of farms around). Furthermore, working hostels could be a good source of information as you are bound to meet a plethora of international travellers with plenty of information to share, and some regional hostels even operate to help find travellers farm work. 

Did you know you can now apply for a third year visa?

From July 2019, travellers who are on their second year working holiday visa can now apply for a third year! The long and short of this is that if you have completed your 88 days of farm work within your first year and secured a second year working holiday visa, you can now do 6 months of specified work in a specified regional area for 6 months to gain a third year visa. Basically, if you don’t think you’ll be ready to leave after your second year, get organised early and do another 6 months of farm work within that second year and stay for a third. Read through all the fine print and criteria here

Feeling overwhelmed?

Don’t be! Farm work might take a little bit of effort and organisation, but it can turn out to be one of the most rewarding and unique experiences you’ll have while living and travelling in Australia. Many backpackers leave the farms with a trove of memorable stories and experiences, not to mention you might see more of Australia then many Aussie’s ever do! And don’t forget, it shouldn’t be all work and no play. We have plenty of suggestions for holidays, adventures, tours and trips to take once you have that second year visa secured! Check them out here

PS - Did you hear the news? Bushfire recovery efforts are about to count as ‘specified work’ for Working Holiday Maker visas.

In February, the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs announced changes to the Working Holiday Maker visa. While the department is still working on the legislation necessary for this to come into effect, it will basically mean WHMs will be able to be count paid or volunteer work on bushfire recovery efforts in a declared disaster area as ‘specified work’ towards eligibility for a second or third WHM visa. Keep up to date with all the latest info here!