Backpackers and bigger trucks

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The face of WA's annual grain harvest is changing with big headers, big trucks and backpackers leading the way.

The grain comes into CBH receival sites from Wheatbelt farms faster than ever before, thanks to modern headers with the capacity to harvest 50 tonnes an hour and growers replacing small trucks with road trains.

And when it arrives, a growing foreign legion of workers is helping to take delivery.

British woman Anna Holbek is five weeks into her first harvest at the Mukinbudin receival site, where she works with three other backpackers.

The 29-year-old from York in the UK had a head-start on the others after working on a farm near Mukinbudin last year.

"Five days after I landed in Perth, I was in Muka," she said. "I knew a family here and I loved it. It is nice to see what Australia is really about.

"They made me welcome and I got involved in community, joined the netball team and the drama club."

Ms Holbek, who ran a theatre business in London before the travel bug bit, is typical of the mature-age backpackers finding their way to the Wheatbelt.

CBH area manger Nick Chandler has about 60 backpackers working across the 20 receival sites he oversees.

Mr Chandler said seven different nationalities worked at one receival site at the peak of last season's record harvest.

Working on the CBH bins was once a rite of passage for local youngsters studying in Perth, but earlier starts to harvest and later finishes to the university year have made it more difficult.

This season's harvest started earlier than ever before in many areas because of seasonal conditions and farmers have the firepower to bring in the crop at a rapid rate.

John Nicoletti, who is a big force in farming and runs John Deere dealerships in the Wheatbelt, said modern headers worth up to $700,000 had huge capacity.

"There are headers out there that can do 60 tonnes an hour so once they get cracking and if the weather stays warm, which it usually does out here, you cover a lot of acres and take off a lot of tonnes pretty quickly," he said. "And trucks are getting bigger and bigger.

"Pocket road trains are everywhere now. Every farmer once upon a time had a little 8-tonne truck, then they got 16t and then 25t, and now it's all 55-60t legal. Not too many guys have small gear left.

"It used to be unusual to go to a bin and see a road train but you don't see many little trucks now."

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