Shortcut to find relief workers

Connecting farmers with workers has never been easier thanks to Canterbury dairy farmer turned app developer, Tony Dodunski and his online platform Ag Assist. Words Sheryl Haitana. Photos Blake and Selene Harvie.

Left: Blake and Selene can find quality relief staff at short notice and their full time staff can feel more comfortable to take leave. Right: Blake (right) and Ag Assist app developer Tony Dodunski.

Finding trustworthy and qualified people to step-in to-do relief work onfarm can be like trying to find a unicorn, but Dunsandel sharemilkers Blake and Selene Harvie have found that magical-being using an online platform connecting farm employers with available workers – Ag Assist. A platform where willing workers can connect with farmers who are looking for staff.

Initially launched in Canterbury to help Lincoln students find work on farms, the app is now planning to go nationwide and is used across various agricultural industries. “When you’re running a small team and one staff member requests annual leave on another person’s rostered day off, it can be hard to approve the leave,” Blake says.

Even though Blake and Selene are still very much working out on the farm, they find themselves frequently short of enough hands, but not often enough to justify that fourth full time labour unit. “Another full time labour unit is 2200 hours, we only need 500-1000 hours, but that can be difficult to cover,” he says.

Having a regular relief milker doesn’t always work either because they usually want to work weekends, or are not keen to do other farm work, Selene says.

Instead they’ve turned to Ag Assist to help them find staff to fill the gaps. The platform has helped them find different labour for different jobs without the stress, from University students to help them in the yards, to more skilled workers. They’ve even managed to find a ‘unicorn’, an experienced former dairy farmer who is now happily doing relief work, and is skilled enough to pick up mastitis cases when she is milking, Selene says.

The fee for 30 days access is a cheap “finders fee” and makes it hassle free to find qualified, reliable and available staff at late notice, Selene says. “The last job I advertised on Farm Source I had 120 applicants, half of which were living overseas and not even eligible,” she says. Now they just switch the app on during their busy periods when they know they’re going to need an extra set of hands.

Canterbury dairy farmer-turned app creator, Tony Dodunski came up with a solution of Ag Assist to better connect farmers with eligible and able workers at short notice.

Labour struggles were exacerbated by Covid, but casual staff are an ongoing issue for the sector, Tony says.
“The ultimate goal is smoothing out the supply and demand curves,” he explains.
This app puts the control in the workers hands to find work and good employers.

Workers can make themselves a profile, list what their skills are, post their hourly rate and what their availability is, and set a radius of distance they are willing to travel for work.

Farm employers can then find those workers through filtering by job type, skill level, location, and contact them directly. Both parties can then rate and add comments on their experience, which are visible to everyone else on the app.

Farm employees and workers can go through a verification process to get an extra ‘tick’ to their name, with Ag Assist doing reference checks.