Regional Farm Work – Worth the Hassle for your Second Year Visa?

In order to enter Australia for a prolonged period of time, you must apply for a Working Holiday Visa, which entitles the holder to one entire year in the country from the date of entry. It usually holds just one limitation in that you are not allowed to work for one employer for more than 6 months; however, depending on the individual the Australian Government may impose further restrictions. In the likely event that you will fall completely in love with Australia and want to apply for another year in ‘The Land Down Under’, you must first jump through a few legal hoops. Read on to understand this in more detail!

                   Banana picking in Tully, QLD

Why should I complete my regional farm work?

Regional farm work, or as it is more commonly known; fruit picking (or even slave labour – as it can often seem) is the exhausting task which all backpackers must endure during their first year in Australia if they would like to come back to this haven for a second year.

Regional farm work comes in all shapes and sizes, ranging from banana picking in the QLD region of Tully; to working in a remote cattle farm in the middle of the Northern Territory.

I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as easy farm work. It’s exhausting, draining and a challenge for your body in one of the hottest climates in the world. But, that being said, I have heard so many stories from fellow travellers who have not only enjoyed their 3 months picking macadamia nuts on a farm, but they have also returned to fill up their empty backpacker pockets! Despite the harsh conditions and hands-on manual labour, due to Australia’s incredibly generous salaries and distribution of work permits, it is actually a very popular way for backpackers to earn abroad and fund their future travels!

                             Strawberry picking

How long must you endure the gruelling process?

The typical length of time you must stay in your position is 88 days or 3 months – at least to satisfy the Australian Government and even be in with a chance of approval for a second-year visa! Although I had met many people who lasted just 1 week! If you dig a little deeper, you will realise that if you stick with one employer and you work for them on a full-time basis (this varies for each position but if the working week is 5 days and you do in fact work all of those days) then you need only to complete 3 months of work with this employer and therefore you do not need to complete a full 88 days exactly. However, if you start your regional farm work with one employer but you decide for whatever reason, or the season ends and you must move on to a new farm then you will be classed as a part time worker and likely to be signed off for only those days you have worked meaning you must tally a total of 88 days in order to satisfy the requirements of the Australian Government, which can then mean you have to actually work for longer, especially as you will not be working 7 day weeks (I hope for your sake!).

A typical day on the farm…

Well for many, this involves waking up at 5 am so work can start before the sun is the highest and strongest in the sky. But don’t be fooled, even at 6 am you can still feel the sun rays beam down on your (pale British – in my case anyway) skin.

The main duties will vary depending on whether you are hurling bananas out of trees or herding the cattle for their monthly immunisations at the ranch. But what is guaranteed is you will work hard, you will be hot and incredibly exhausted after your likely 10-12 hour shift.

Most workers are granted a 30-minute lunch break with two shorter breaks in between to break up the day, usually around 15 minutes. So be prepared for very long days. If you are lucky enough to have your accommodation and meals provided for you, then you will eat dinner together and most likely head up to bed for an early night to do it all over again the next day.

How much money can you earn?

Honestly, this varies greatly and I think it purely comes down to luck as to the time you are searching for your regional farm work and the availability of the preferred positions.

Some farmers pay you per hour which is certainly the best way for you to replenish those quickly decreasing pockets, however, this is not always the case.  Most people are under the impression that fruit picking is lucrative for backpackers and a great way to save up money for the next big trip. Whilst this can be true for many travellers, the harsh realities of illegal labour and contract pay certainly exist. As I now understand it, the Government have tightened their rules and it has now been made an offence to offer ‘unpaid’ farm work or ‘work for accommodation’ type jobs, without an additional salary, however, there are still many organisations who intend and (quite successfully) cheat the system, proving that the desire for a second year down under really is supreme.

                    Oranges by the bucket load!

Some farmers, however, pay you for exactly what you actually do, say per bucket full, or box that you pack. This is certainly not an ideal situation to be in unless you can work continuously at a strong steady pace each and every day. So usually at first, you will work a solid 10 hour day yet you will earn so very little you wonder why you are even wasting your time. But usually, once you get the hang of it and can work yourself into a rhythm then you usually improve drastically. I have heard of some backpackers making a solid $200 AUD by 2 pm and then they take the afternoon off – that would be ideal right?!

Another good thing about a dedicated hard worker is quite simply that they are rare, show your worth and many organisations will realise this and you will move quickly up the ladder, to more interesting and varied roles.

In some agricultural and regional areas, it is customary for employers to provide workers accommodation and even some meals as well. This does, however, depend on the type of farm and the region in which you are working.

If you are facing your first few days on the job, don’t forget, the first few days truly are the hardest!

I would love to hear your stories and experiences of regional farm work in Australia so please share in the comments!