Labour shortages are adding to the challenge for farmers
Dairy farmer Rick Gladigau manages a one-week break from work about once a year. Image by PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO
  • farms

Farmers finding it tough to take a break

Liv Casben January 7, 2022

The festive season is a time for many Aussies to take a break, but spare a thought for those who have helped put ham or haloumi on the Christmas table.

Most farmers haven’t and won’t get time off this holiday period, according to the National Farmers Federation.

“Sadly there is no such thing as annual leave for farmers and people who own their own businesses,” general manager Charlie Thomas said.

An ongoing labour shortage is making the prospect of a break even more bleak, he told AAP.

“There’s really no down time in the production cycle for most farms, there’s always work to be done … it’s more challenging this year given the crisis that’s unfolded in farm labour with farmers unable to access traditional overseas labour sources due to COVID.”

South Australian dairy farmer Rick Gladigau hasn’t had more than 10 successive days off since he bought his farm 27 years ago. 

He milks up to 100 cows twice a day. Add the administrative and other farm work and it makes for an average 13-hour day, six days a week. 

“I don’t expect my staff to milk at Christmas … they should be able to have time off with their family. Only once I’ve not milked Christmas Day night, same with New Years (Eve),” he said.

The Adelaide Hills farmer is also president of Australian Dairy Farmers and spoke to AAP during an interrupted week of annual leave at Aldinga, south of  the capital.

“I do think about the people who have four weeks’ holiday a year or have every weekend off and go ‘gosh, I wonder what that is like?’,” Mr Gladigau said

The 56 -year-old said it’s increasingly challenging to get reliable workers, which in turn makes it harder to get away.

“Like anyone who has a business, to go away and just bring anybody in to look after it .. is not that easy,” he said.

“You don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry coming in and milking your cows, if they get it wrong it takes alot to fix it up again.”

The relentless workload is common for farmers according to Conjoint Professor of Rural Health Research at the University of Newcastle, David Perkins.

For the past seven years he’s headed up the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, researching the impacts on wellbeing in rural populations.

“We know that you need to have a break in order to be able to reset and to physically have a rest, and to be in a better place mentally,” Prof Perkins said.

While COVID-19 has produced plenty of problems for many Australians, farmers have done it particularly tough.

“Imagine adding drought, fire, flood and mice to the challenge,” Prof Perkins said.

“Farmers are not people with a whole load of staff that you can just tell … to go off and do things, very often there are one or two people on the farm and then there are a series of contractors.”

NSW Farmers CEO Pete Arkle said rain had prolonged harvesting for NSW grain farmers this season.

“The interruption that we have seen from extreme weather means many farmers won’t have much of a summer holiday in 21/22.”

Taking a break is vital, Grant Blashki from Australia’s mental health organisation Beyond Blue said.

“It’s very important when people have highly responsible jobs that they try and take a break … it’s not easy for people who have a very strong work ethic.”

His suggestion for those struggling to switch off? Get absorbed in a hobby, activity or a book that provides an ‘escape’.

“There are some wonderful benefits of rural life but there are also stresses like long irregular hours, financial insecurity and natural disasters,” Dr Blashki said.

For Mr Gladigau, he’s happy to just “stop” on his short break.

“We might do a bit local shopping and go for a drive, and lay on a beach for a bit.”

Four days into his week-long annual holiday, the dairy farmer was heading back to the farm to milk the cows, to give his co-worker a break.

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