Article by: Hari Yellina
Operating two cotton picker machines this year, when seven months pregnant, was not something Annie Kennedy had anticipated. But for her and her partner’s contract cotton-picking firm, it has been all hands-on deck due to a severe labour shortage and an extended cotton harvest. Harvest must now be completed as quickly as possible before her baby is born. “My spouse and I often joke that I’ll have to get off the machine and head straight to the hospital,” according to Ms. Kennedy. “There’s still a lot of cotton to be picked, but I truly hope it doesn’t come to that.” In this harvest, former ballerina and Dutch traveller Britt de Jong has assisted Ms. Kennedy.
She was terrified to operate a manual vehicle before she began working for us, and now, Ms. Kennedy added, she is operating a manual tractor. She actually possesses greater strength than any of the other guys on my team. She is known as “Britt strength.” The female-led team, according to Ms. Kennedy, had startled some of the farmers they had worked with. “We would simply show up as two chicks and announce that we were there to pick cotton. Some people have found it intriguing to broaden their horizons. The cotton harvest has taken months to complete this year due to the bad weather and a large crop. Although central and northern NSW are where most of NSW’s cotton is cultivated, the Riverina is seeing an increase in production.
Paul Flewitt, farm manager for Southern Cotton, explained that because the region is still developing, they depend on contract pickers from up north. One of the biggest cotton seasons in recent memory and then a seven-day rain streak made it a nightmare from the start, according to Mr. Flewitt. The contractors wouldn’t move south to assist us, and the northerners couldn’t get their harvest off. However, when it was too rainy to harvest in the Macquarie Valley, Ms. Kennedy and her colleagues were able to come down and assist them. It saved us two to three weeks of additional picking, which was fantastic, according to Mr. Flewitt.
The harvest team for Southern Cotton has welcomed his wife Rheannon Flewitt for the first time. The mother of four going back to work to assist in cutting the produce. “I’ve been forced to step outside of my comfort zone. I’ve begun operating tractors, something I’ve never done before,” said Ms. Flewitt. “Because of the significant staff shortfall, we ended up working much longer hours than anticipated, which is how I joined the team.” Southern NSW cotton growers had believed they would still be harvesting in October a few weeks prior. However, a series of bright days has made it possible for many to complete harvest in the upcoming weeks. Ironically, we’re hoping for some rain now so we can get our winter crops in, you can never keep us farmers happy,” Mr Flewitt said.