Backpackers step into the breach for South West farmer

Zach RelphCountryman
Backpacker worker Sarah Grosse-Gehling with Forest Grove dairy farmer Ian Noakes.
Camera IconBackpacker worker Sarah Grosse-Gehling with Forest Grove dairy farmer Ian Noakes. Credit: Taelor Pelusey

Ian Noakes admits ongoing difficulties to get workers into the dairy shed is tiresome.

The long-time Forest Grove dairy farmer, located about 20km south-east of Margaret River, farms in partnership with sons Steven and Brad co-ordinating a 580-strong milking herd across 300ha.

To complete the farm’s day-to-day tasks — which also includes calf rearing and fattening steers — the Noakes employee four additional staff.

The ability to meet labour requirements and fill roles can sometimes prove tough for Mr Noakes, with the milk supplier recently grappling to plug two available jobs.

“I advertised and really struggled to find a local to fill the positions,” he said.

“But, we found a couple of backpackers prepared to commit for longer than normal — it’s a short-term solution to our labour problems.”

Ashley Willage, from the United States, and German resident Sarah Grosse-Gehling were employed by the Noakes more than five weeks ago ahead of the family’s upcoming calf rearing program starting next month.

Sarah Grosse-Gehling enjoys working at Forest Grove milk supplier Ian Noakes’ farm.
Camera IconSarah Grosse-Gehling enjoys working at Forest Grove milk supplier Ian Noakes’ farm. Credit: Taelor Pelusey

While Ms Willage had no prior dairy experience but is settling into her new role nicely, Ms Grosse-Gehling had previously milked buffalo in India and is enjoying the cow milking sea-change.

Dairy Australia is forecasting milking operations employing six or more workers on-farm will increase from 4 per cent to 20 per cent by 2025.

The industry body also expects the dairy industry to need another 800 skilled workers on-farm by 2023.

Mr Noakes said it was important to farmers to balance workloads to attract potential workers to the sector.

“You hear of unemployment problems and people who can’t get a job, but I think there are quite a few jobs available on dairy farms that dairy farmers find really hard to fill,” he said.

“You have to treat people as normal workers so they’re not there from 5am to 7pm.

“It’s hard and sometimes long hours at work, but we try to tailor our jobs to suit people because they have to have a life outside of work.”

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