3 June 2012
Eumundi strawberry farm
Strawberry season on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland goes from roughly beginning of June till November. At Eumundi Strawberry farm, where I worked, the last berry was picked in the beginning of December because of a late crop that year. If you want to land a job picking strawberries, you need to be early.
Some farms starts advertising for workers as early as February, and even have waiting lists. Other farms encourage you to apply online or call. However, the smartest thing to do is to just show up at the farm and ask for work. It makes you stand out from all those online applications and phone calls. If they don't have work for you they might be able to put you on a waiting-list or use their local knowledge to recommend somewhere else. Especially within harvesting, people come and go.
Of course it also depends on which stage you apply for a strawberry picking job. If there are no jobs available in June, it doesn't mean the same applies to July, August or September. High season is usually then, which also means the farmers are in need of more pickers at that time. I started as late as in the middle of August. Unfortunately it's likely that farmers who treat their employees badly will have more openings because workers quickly choose to leave, so be cautious. There are some horrible people out there who knows they can get away with taking advantage of backpackers.
After meeting other people who have picked strawberries on other farms on the Sunshine Coast or Australia(the season varies a lot), I realized that the practices were really different. At Eumundi Strawberry farm we picked strawberries sitting on custom-made bikes. Our empty and full trays on a rack behind us, and the tray we were picking in, in front of us. On many other farms, the pickers have to kneel on the ground while picking. Back-breaking and a strain on your legs if you're planning to pick for months.
The salary also varies greatly. Some farmers motivate their workers by paying them per tray instead of per hour. This is usually, unless you're superhuman of course, a bad and unfair deal. A couple of my friends picked strawberries in Cygnet, Tasmania. Even when they worked as hard as they possibly could, they never made more than $8 per hour. At Eumundi we were paid on an hourly, minimum wage ($19.10 at the time). Our bosses Gary, Thelma and Kay treated us really well, which made us want to work as hard as possible. If the weather was especially bad one day, we were usually let off early, or Thelma would make us warm pumpkin soup or muffins for our lunch-break. We never worked more than what is legal, 37.5 hours a week.
Most other places I've done farm work didn't care about fair or unfair work. At the tomato farm in Bowen I worked at for two days, they worked between ten to seventeen hours a day up to seven days a week. I feel like I dodged a bullet picking strawberries instead!