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Lake Cargelligo teenagers on harvest leave bring in grain crop amid COVID-19 worker shortage

By Cara Jeffery, Friday December 4, 2020 - 09:22 EDT
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Reagan Golding, 14, and brother Joel, 16, have been busy with harvest on their family farm. - ABC

At just 14 years old, Reagan Golding is handling harvest like a seasoned farmer.

She is charged with driving the tractor and chaser bin to collect the harvested grain at her family's farm at Lake Cargelligo in the NSW Central West.

Reagan's older brother, Joel, 16, is chief header driver and is stripping the grain from the crops.

A perk of driving the header is the air-conditioning, especially when it is more than 40 degrees Celsius in the paddock.

"It's much better being in the header than being out in the stinking hot," he said.

Reagan is more comfortable with chaser bin duties, anyway.

"The chaser is a bit more chill, because you pick up the grain and then you come back and sit for a bit and just wait in the tractor, where with the header you have to concentrate a bit more and watch for everything else when you are going," she said.

Harvest leave presents a learning experience

The siblings have taken harvest leave from school to help their family at this busy time of year.

It comes after work experience for Joel, who is in Year 10, was canned due to COVID-19 restrictions.

He convinced his father, Scott, to let him take harvest leave instead, and Reagan certainly wasn't going to miss out on the action on the farm once she got wind Joel was having time away from the classroom.

"It's not just our kids, there are a lot of kids around the country helping with harvest this year," Scott Golding said.

"Obviously, staffing has been more difficult with COVID, so it's been good to get them involved.

"It's a massive effort and they've been unbelievable, I just can't really praise them enough."

Lake Cargelligo has been impacted by the drought for the past three years, but generous rain this year has turned it all around.

"It's good to get a good crop off this year," Joel said.

Scott Golding said it was his best season in 15 years.

"It's our most consistent season. We are probably sitting on an average rainfall for year to date here, whereas the past few years we were sort of less than half our average," Mr Golding said.

"The first road train load we took off one paddock was more than we got off the whole paddock last year.

"It's just a lovely change to what we've had in the past few years."

Life skills and long hours

While the Goldings are putting in long hours, they are enjoying being part of a rewarding harvest.

"It's just good getting out and having a bit of a drive around, seeing how good the crops are and just being with your family, and just helping each other out and getting the crops off," Joel said.

Reagan was matter of fact: "It's good because I'm getting time off school and getting to be out with the family".

Scott Golding said his kids were learning plenty of life skills on the farm.

"Generally, they do 10 to 12-hour days, and they are here from start to finish," Mr Golding said.

"They are learning skills that are going to set him up for the future, and they are skills that when they finish school could help them pick up work anywhere."

The Goldings have roped in some mates, Angus and Ollie Randall from Wagga Wagga, to help them handle the workload.

"I've been helping service the header in the morning and then hopping on the header and sharing with Joel throughout the day, so we don't bloody get too tired," Ollie Randall said.

Reagan said: "We usually go from 8:30 in the morning to nine o'clock or 10:30pm, something like that. I'll stay on there for a few hours and then jump off maybe and swap with one of the boys."

Safety paramount in the paddock

While they can't legally drive cars, they have no trouble handling the huge harvest machinery in the paddock, and it takes precision and concentration to get the job done safely.

"You just have to take it slow and steady and just be sort of gentle with what you're doing. Just ease around and don't go to silly on it, I guess," Joel said.

"I'm a bit cautious driving it, because you have got to make sure you don't hit anything or do something wrong, as it is expensive and you don't want to wreck it," Reagan said.

"It hasn't been too hard, but you've got to remember which buttons work for what, and make sure you don't like shut the auger off before you go.

"I put the auger down a bit too early once from emptying into the truck, and might have spilled a bit of grain, but other than that it's been pretty good."

They will be back in the classroom soon, but before then they have a few more laps around the paddock.

"I'd rather be out here any day than at school," Reagan said.


© ABC 2020

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