Workforce management and planning is part of a suite of responsibilities growers must deal with to successfully run their business operations. Adopting modern workforce planning practices can help adjust to disruptions and challenges in the labour market and assist in attracting, developing, and retaining valued employees.
The videos and tools available on this page have primarily been designed and developed to provide practical support to agricultural employers in the horticulture industry. However, they may also be relevant and helpful to the broader agricultural industry.
Case study videos
Watch the videos below to find out how these growers are using workforce planning to meet the needs of their business.
Video 1 Koala Farms
Find out more about Koala Farm’s story and their journey towards corporatizing their farm, hiring a Workforce Manager, and being supported by workers from Timor-Leste.
I'm Michelle Flowers. I'm the HR manager at Koala Farms. We employ about 200 workers year round. Got this farm here in Gatton, we've got two farms over in Cambooya, and we've just purchased a farm about a year ago down in Bathurst. We grow broccoli, your cos lettuces, iceberg lettuce, baby leaf products, such as spinach and rocket and also cauliflower.
So the last two years we've really struggled in finding good quality workers, people who actually want to work on a farm. We're heavily reliant on backpackers. Obviously the backpacker workforce dropped off when COVID hit. So we looked at the Pacific Labour Scheme and that presented a really great solution where we could bring people to Australia for a three-year work opportunity. We were able to bring in our first group of workers in February. Those workers, they've come from Timor-Leste and we're really thrilled with the value they're adding into the business, the impact they're having on our culture. They've turned our whole business around.
Koala Farms has been around for a long time. Our owner's a fifth generation farmer and ran a very successful business. He wanted to grow the business, buy more farms, basically meet the demand that the market was asking of him. And as a result, he felt that he needed to shift the business to be more corporate, but he didn't want to lose that family-type feel within the business. I was fortunate enough to come on board and to help him do that transition. There's a lot more transparency across the business. A lot more teamwork. You can see it in the way that our employees feel. People aren't a number here. People are valued.
For innovation being one of our values is really key. Our company does everything from growing our own seedlings to transporting our own product to our customers. We design our own machinery, our own planters, and our harvesters. We've got an engineering team, we've got boiler makers, we've got mechanics. It's that knowledge and combination with innovation that's what makes this company really unique. What we're kind of finding with a lot of our workers is there's this loyalty that's really developed. We really value that. They're just making a big difference.
Video 2 McNab & Son Orchards
Find out more about Mitch’s story and their transition of growing fruit for canning to fresh fruit. Hear Mitch talk about administering a farm management software to improve his business profitability.
Hi, I'm Mitchell McNab from McNab Orchards in Ardmona. We grow apples, pears, and stone fruit here on our property where we have about 200 acres. My family's been here for over 100 years and my great, great grandfather was a geologist. And he got commissioned by Victorian government at the time to come and find ground to grow pears on with the imminent war coming. And so we've been growing fruit ever since.
We have about five full-time employees through the whole year. Over harvest months, which are sort of January through to May, we have anywhere between 20 and 30 workers. So we've only just finished our harvest about a month ago. Now we're started pruning the trees and doing any maintenance and everything's required over the downtime.
Over the last 10 years, we've converted our business, which we traditionally grew canning fruit for the canneries, but as that became less and less profitable, we've transitioned away from that into fresh fruit. So now we're trying to redevelop and grow our orchard plantings in size and area to allow us to produce more.
We've brought in some agtech that we sort of tried to involve in the business, so that we can reduce some of the costs. And the main one we've introduced is using a farm management software program that gives us the ability to track what we do in the orchard, right down to a block level, which enables us to have an understanding of which blocks perform well and which ones don't. And it's just given us the ability to see in the business better than before which blocks are performing well and which ones aren't.
The margins that are in fresh fruit are quite minor currently. And in time it means that we are going to have to try and produce things far cheaper than we are currently. So, about 66% of our cost production is our labour requirement. Through our orchard and the industry generally is starting to implement things that reduce our reliance on labour, be it mechanisation, or robotics as well. We currently use for our harvest labour, the PALM scheme. We managed to get, with ourselves and two other neighbouring orchards, about 45 seasonal workers in, through the scheme, from Samoa, and we managed to be able to share them between the three businesses, which worked really well.
I love my job, it's enjoyable to come to work and be outside and see how things change through the whole season. And what I can implement in the business and how that affects our crop. I think it's really, really interesting.
Video 3 JK Anderson & Sons Orchards
Find out more about Jake’s story and his journey of rebuilding his family farm. Jake collects data per block to compare his expenses and yield using a workforce and business analysis tool.
I'm Jake Anderson. I'm the manager of J.K Anderson and Sons orchards here in Ardmona in country Victoria. We grow fresh fruit for the markets, apples, pears and peaches. Our land was purchased in the early 1940s by my great grandfather. We grew up on the farm here, helping out. I always said I would return to the farm, but I wasn't too sure. I went away working. I'm a fitter and turner by trade. Six years later, and now purchased it off me family and running it as a career.
I decided I had to go back to school, so I went back and done a diploma in leadership and management, more so just to learn how to talk to people properly, to be able to get the best out of them, especially when it comes to training. Training's a big thing with us on the farms, and safety. Now that we've narrowed down our crop load a little bit, we'll have four to five casuals, permanently, across winter, to get the pruning done.
Fruit season, we generally operate on 12 to 15 seasonal workers that come in for our picking season.
We've pushed out a lot of trees over the last five or six years, pretty well half our orchard, and now we're in the restructure phase where we've got to get some more fruit back in the ground before we can do any more. So we've done a lot of work with our block profitability, so we are taking every single block that we have, whether it be apples, pears, peaches, the position of them, where they are, if they're flood irrigated, micro jets. Every single cost that is encountered with that block versus the yield that it's producing and our profit, or our returns that we're getting from our packing sheds, really determines if that block's staying or going, but now that I have a succession planner with our block profitability and that, I can actually sleep at night. Because we have a solid 10 year plan in place. I was sort of doing everything off the cuff. Doing my own investigations, but now we actually have the hard, physical evidence of our block profitability and it's a lot better.
This season, we've had to change our ways and the Pacific Labour Scheme, we teamed up with another couple of orchards and we brought in some Samoans through a contractor, and it was easy. It really was. Of course, there's always teething issues. There's always issues when you involve labour and people, and it comes down to training and treating people right, and working with them. Seeing that produce come off the tree and it's the best piece of fruit that you can grow, yeah, it's pretty rewarding.
Workforce management planning tools
To help small to medium agricultural enterprises improve their workforce management planning, the department, in consultation with industry, has developed 2 workforce management planning tools.
Workforce and business analysis tool
The workforce and business analysis tool is a prepared spreadsheet that can be used by horticultural growers to document and analyse workforce related data across the financial year. It will help you compare expenses and yield per block using data collected from the farm.
This tool has been designed to combine operational and labour costs with your business’s annual gross income, to give you an accurate picture of the business profits.
Download the workforce and business analysis tool
If you have difficulty accessing these files, visit web accessibility for assistance.
This Excel workbook has 5 worksheets. Only enter data in the grey cells.
Worksheet 1 - Summary page: Do not enter data in the summary page. This sheet will automatically populate, and the graph will update as you complete worksheets 2 to 5.
Worksheet 2 - Labour cost: This sheet outlines the cost of your labour force per month. Here you can see how employment fluctuation can impact the profit of your harvest. The sections are broken down by labour costs for casual employees, permanent employees or employees picking by bins and can be inputted separately, giving you flexibility in employment options.
Worksheet 3 - Workforce cost: Add your monthly workforce expenses such as training, staff welfare, and insurances to this sheet. Do not include salaries or wages.
Worksheet 4 - Operations costs: Use this sheet to input your operational expenses such as energy, water, marketing, and repairs.
Worksheet 5 - Incomes: Here you can add your gross income. This is broken down into land blocks allowing you to analyse each block’s profitability across your farm. This sheet can be used to create predictions and profit targets for your business.
The pre-harvest workforce management checklist is a self-assessment tool for horticultural growers. This checklist has been designed to help growers evaluate their workforce planning and management processes before harvest.
It has been designed to help growers consider how to build the right team and team culture for their upcoming harvest and to identify and mitigate possible workforce risks.
Predict your workforce needs to prepare for a stress-free harvest. Using the workforce management and planning checklist will ensure you have ticked all the boxes.
Download the Pre-Harvest checklist
If you have difficulty accessing these files, visit web accessibility for assistance.
Answer each question by checking the boxes marked ‘Yes’, ‘Maybe’, ‘No’ or ‘Irrelevant’. If most of your responses are ‘Yes’, you are well-prepared for the upcoming harvest. If most of your answers are ‘Maybe’ or ‘No’, review which areas of your workforce planning can be improved.
We recommend using this checklist 4 to 6 weeks leading up to your harvest. You can use this checklist to discuss your workforce needs with your local peak body representative.
If you need further help in using these tools, please email email@example.com
The workforce management and planning project
These tools and videos have been developed as an outcome of the modern workforce management and planning practices project.
The objective of the project is to assist in upskilling agricultural employers and businesses in the adoption of modern workforce management and planning practices.
These tools and videos are the result of research across 8 areas in regional Australia and consultation with industry peak bodies. Their design meets an identified need for simple, easy to use products to help growers plan for and recruit the diverse skillsets they need to meet their future business goals.
For more information about the project email firstname.lastname@example.org