Working abroad: Perks of gaining first-time experience in farming 

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Published on 2023-02-01 at 08:00 by Ameerah Arjanee
Agriculture is a field in need of short-term workers in various countries. Multiple farming jobs, notably fruit picking, don't require previous experience. These jobs are a great choice for young people looking to make some money while discovering the world or even older adults who want to take a sabbatical year. Canada, New Zealand and Australia are all in great need of permanent and temporary agricultural workers.

What are the benefits of gaining work experience in farming?

Agriculture is a great field for travelers looking to gain short-term work experience. Firstly, the entry requirements for various jobs in the field aren't high. Secondly, it's a way to work and enjoy nature at the same time. Thirdly, in addition to earning a wage, it's fairly easy to also get a room and food for free. And fourth, it's a great way to gain a variety of skills that are transferable to many careers.

Of course, some agriculture jobs do require training and experience. For instance, handling heavy machinery or driving a farm vehicle requires a permit and expertise. But the most in-demand seasonal job tends to be fruit-picking, which is an unskilled or low-skilled job. It just requires a moderate level of physical fitness, the ability to tolerate being under the sun for long shifts, and a lot of patience. It is physically strenuous, but skill-wise, it often only requires a few days of on-site training. 

Despite not requiring many skills, fruit-picking jobs can pay quite well at the moment because of the severe shortage of workers for it. The New Zealand news website Stuff reported in mid-2022 that seasonal kiwi-pickers could be paid up to NZ$60 (38 USD) per hour because of the worker shortage since the pandemic. Normally, the minimum hourly wage for this job is around 15-30 dollars. In Australia, the minimum wage for casual fruit pickers is 25.41 Australian dollars, which is slightly more than 17 US dollars. 

These jobs also offer additional benefits like free accommodation, transport, food, bonuses, and prizes to attract much-needed seasonal workers. This is a great perk for older teenagers or young adults who have a limited amount of savings, for example, university students on a gap year. They can work for a year abroad in countries with which their own country has a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) agreement. Seasonal farm work fits perfectly into this time limit of one year.

These jobs also teach first-time workers transferable skills: teamwork and leadership, adaptability skills, knowledge of the environmental sciences, logistics and coordination, among others. Seasonal workers tend to be from various countries, so working alongside them is also a great way to build language and intercultural communication skills. Last but not least, as farming jobs tend to be in the countryside, travelers can also enjoy the beautiful scenery and hiking spots during their stay.

Canada, New Zealand and Australia all have attractive programs for short-term farm workers

New Zealand, Australia and Canada all have an important agricultural sector and are still suffering from a post-Covid shortage of both permanent and seasonal farm workers. 

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) reported in November 2022 that 74% of businesses in the country's agricultural sector, which represents nearly 7% of the country's GDP, are suffering from a labor shortage. The news website Stuff reports that New Zealand farmers are complaining of the same situation, with a shortage of 4,000 workers merely in the dairy industry. In late 2022, Australia was still suffering from a food supply crisis owing to the shortage of 172,000 workers in both agriculture and food services. 

Through what programs can you gain first-time farming experience in these countries? Canada has Working Holiday Visa agreements with the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. Young people between 18-35 can apply to work in Canada for a year. A quick search on Canadian job platforms (e.g., Indeed Canada) shows that there are part-time farming apprenticeships specifically targeted at WHV holders. These jobs offer a stipend (even if not a full salary) in addition to room and board.

Another Canadian program is the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), and it is open to only citizens of Mexico and a list of Caribbean islands. They can be hired for a maximum of 8 months if not enough Canadian workers can be found for these jobs. There also exists the Agri-Food Pilot, which will run until May 2023, but it is for experienced farmworkers who want to acquire permanent residency.

Like Canada, New Zealand also has a Working Holiday program for under-35s. It is open to citizens of the following countries: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the UK, the US, Uruguay and Vietnam. The program's quotas for each country were recently increased to alleviate the labor shortage plaguing the country. 

Specialized agencies, such as Ag Work NZ, help match WHV-holders with jobs on farms. On its website, Ag Work NZ shares the experience of one of its first clients in 2022, a young British woman named Ciara. Ciara grew up on a farm, so she had previous experience driving farm vehicles. Upon graduating from high school, she wanted to explore the world. She especially wanted to travel outside of Europe, something she had never done before. Her pre-existing farming skills matched perfectly with what New Zealand was looking for.

Another route to enter New Zealand as a farm worker is through the Recognised Seasonal Employer Limited Visa. In contrast with the WHV, the worker here must be from an eligible Pacific country and must already have a job offer before applying. With this visa, he/she can usually work for seven months in New Zealand agriculture.

How about Australia? Australia has a Working Holiday program that is open to those aged under 30 from the following countries: Belgium, Canada, the Republic of Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK. Danish, French, Italian and Irish applicants have a higher age limit of 35. The country also used to have an Agriculture Visa, but it has been scrapped in favor of the newer Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, which recruits both short-term and long-term workers. However, as the name says, it's open to only citizens of islands of the Pacific region.

The recruitment firm Agri Labour Australia stresses that, given that Australia is a huge country with various micro-climates, it's important to check when the harvest season is exactly in each region before applying. While the fruit-picking season in southern Australian states (e.g., Victoria, New South Wales) runs only from November to February, in northern states like Queensland, the season extends to May.