Family, friends and even FIFO workers have made appearances on WA farms this harvest as growers “stretched to their limits” amid crippling labour shortages and a bumper crop search high and low to get bums on seats. WA is set to make Australian history this harvest, with yields forecast to edge over 22.1 million tonnes off the back of the wettest start to the growing season in decades and high grain prices. A record nine million hectares were planted across the grainbelt, which northern growers began harvesting months ago, with southern growers kicking off in recent weeks. However, getting the labour to harvest the huge crop — estimated to generate up to $9 billion for the WA economy — has been an ongoing issue for farmers and seen many turn to family and friends for help during critical periods on-farm. For grain and hay growers Ben and Jo Smith in Jennacubbine, having family willing to travel and give up their weekends was a “huge help”. It was a worry,” Mrs Smith said. “We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get enough people to help us, especially with our hay enterprise (where) we have numerous machines that have to run at the same time. “We required a person that had an HR or truck license to drive our delivery truck to Perth and a lot of them didn’t fit that criteria. “We needed bums on seats and couldn’t get them.” Between the horticultural sector being left with a gaping 7000-person hole when backpackers left the country as COVID-19 hit, the hospitality sector seeing businesses shut because of lack of staff and grain growers needing chaser bin and header drivers, the small seasonal labour pool left in WA has been pulled in all directions. “We had a few interviews with people prior to secure workers but they either weren’t interested or got snavelled up by someone else,” Mrs Smith said. A couple of Mr Smith’s relatives made the 120km trek from Perth on days off to jump on a tractor and drive balers in what was an “intense” hay season for the growers during which they had rake several times after rainfall put a halt to baling. “It was good to have them on board,” Mrs Smith said. York-based trainer Ley Webster — who runs 2 Workin Oz — has helped them source labour for many years, this year linking them up with a former ADF member through Operation Grains Harvest Assist. As well as family, the pair employed an older woman from a farm nearby during hay season, and come harvest, have had a few new faces come on board for a day or two here and there. Among the new faces are two FIFO workers from Queensland, who have been based in WA during the pandemic. Tired of spending their week off away from family and friends while forking out for a hotel in the city, they have decided to spend their time off on-farm, helping out driving tractors and wherever the Smiths need them and staying in their workers’ accommodation. “We’ve managed to source people here there and everywhere,” Mr Smith said. Long-term, they are after a permanent team member to join their enterprise but it was proving difficult. “We have been on the hunt for a full-time worker for a while now,” Mrs Smith said. “Trying to find someone to fulfill a versatile role (is a struggle). “It’s just been hard, we’re not a huge farm . . . we don’t have the latest and greatest, so it’s harder to attract people (because we) don’t have all the big toys. “But we’ve got a house that has access to school buses and not far from town.” Mr Smith said he felt for other growers who were facing similar labour issues and hoped 2022-23 would be different. “We are very dependent in the farming industry for backpackers,” he said.