7 June 2002

Online answer to seasonal farm staff problems

Getting harvest help is becoming increasingly difficult.

But a Suffolk farmers internet-based service could

make it easier to get good seasonal staff

THE problems that Nigel Merriam, who farms 200ha (500 acres) of arable land at Thornham Magna, Suffolk, had getting hold of good harvest help are no doubt typical of farmers around the UK. He traditionally used UK students, but found that colleges seemed to be starting their autumn term earlier and earlier so by the beginning of September the students had disappeared. That still left a shortfall during the busy six weeks up to autumn drilling.

His solution was to fill the skills gap from July to November with New Zealanders and Australians. These youngsters, who are travelling the world, are capable, personable and are happy to work long hours to give them the money to carry on travelling, he points out.

So pleased was he with this new arrangement that he started a web-site that would allow other farmers to get hold of good students at this critical time of the year. He joined forces with local recruitment expert Catherine Buchanan to start www.4Xtrahands.com

The service is free to job applicants and he already has a list of more than 100 people ready and able to work on British farms. Candidates come from the UK, Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Europe.

Job seekers cover the full range of abilities and qualifications, he says. Many are capable of using even the very big and complex equipment now found on larger UK farms while others have basic stockman skills. Many have formal agricultural qualifications; others are just keen to work in the countryside.

Farmers can advertise their job vacancies online or buy an individuals CV and contact details.

To save time, payment can now be made directly from the farm office by a very secure server. The details of bankers cards are undisclosed to anyone except the farmer and the final bank.

Secure payment

A job advertisement made online and paid through a secure payment server is £80 + VAT or by cheque £90 + VAT. A CV costs £15 + VAT by online payment and a VAT invoice is automatically issued.

Once a job advertisement is online an applicant simply makes contact with the farmer by clicking the apply button. A copy of the applicants CV and contact details are dispatched automatically to the farmer. If the applicant looks suitable it is up to the farmer to make contact and arrange an interview.

Many of those on the CV list have applied from their own home country, which enables them to get a job or a job interview before they leave home. There is a direct link on the site to the Home Office work permit unit for advice to travellers to ensure all appropriate legislation is adhered to.

Nigel Merriam can be contacted on 01284-747292.

Nigel Merriam reckons he has an answer to seasonal staff problems.