THE gates have opened and the grains industry expects both interstate and international workers to slowly start flowing through, just in time for 2022 seeding programs.
A major constraint on grain farming productivity over the past two years has been the lack of skilled workers due to the ongoing closure of State and international borders from the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, on March 3 the WA border was finally opened to the rest of the country and the rest of the world, and graingrowers are excited by the prospect of easing labour woes.
WAFarmers grains section president Mic Fels said after the initial curveball of the border not opening on February 5, growers had jumped at the chance to bring in workers for the upcoming seeding season.
"As soon as it was announced that the border would open on March 3, ads started going up and phone calls started going out," Mr Fels said.
"New South Wales, Victoria, New Zealand, Europe and the UK - I'm aware of people who have already flown out from all of those places to come here and take up seeding jobs."
Australian grain producers have called on all available resources to find the workers needed to get them through the past two seasons which has seen record grain production, topped by a 62 million tonne national harvest last year, with WA leading the charge.
During that time, Grain Producer Australia (GPA) backed calls, led by WAFarmers, for government support to relieve pressures on grain producers by helping to deliver the workers needed to meet surge labour capacity at seeding and harvest periods.
GPA chief executive Colin Bettles said the border opening would undoubtedly help resolve some of those issues and provide much welcome relief.
"Australian grain producers will be proactive, wasting no time and doing their best to attract foreign workers with the skills and experience needed to do the job, not only at seeding time but also during harvest," Mr Bettles said.
"Whilst we expect open borders will relieve some of these labour pressures, GPA will continue pushing the government to do more and ensure we can build a stronger, lasting workforce."
On a personal level, Mr Fels, who farms near Esperance, is still in the process of recruiting and while he has found a casual for seeding, he still has two full-time positions to fill.
"I've got one guy coming from Victoria to drive the seeder, he sounds really good and wouldn't have been able to come across without the border opening," Mr Fels said.
"I'm still in discussions with other people from all sorts of origins and nationalities for those other two roles which I've been needing for two years now.
"It's only now that I have any hope of finding someone with the right level of experience as we finally have access to a bigger pool of labour."
While the border opening is certainly a big relief, unfortunately it's unlikely to suddenly end all the previous labour issues.
Farmers are facing a huge backlog of work and stress, some are having problems securing visas for the workers they have recruited and the damage to WA's reputation as a place to come and work will not be healed overnight.
Given the State government's previous attitude towards slamming the border closed, a lot of workers are wary about coming to WA due to uncertainty around if the border will close again or if the rules will change.
Mr Fels said there was a general lack of trust which was not great for branding when it comes to recruiting and would deter some people from coming.
"In saying that, the sort of people we want to drive our tractors are excited about coming to WA with our big paddocks, big machines and the latest technology which we're so well known for, so they care less about some of the other issues," he said.
"I think it will be at least 12 months before we get back to any sort of normality when it comes to recruitment and finding enough people with the right experience.
"I wouldn't say everyone feels like the problem is over, but it is a huge relief to know we can recruit from outside WA."
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