Often, when we think about picking, the two jobs that come to our mind are either being a picker or working in a packinghouse. Actually lots of other different job opportunities exist on the “picking trail”.
As we know it’s not always simple to understand what the real meaning of a job title is, we will try to help you to clarify them. Don’t hesitate to investigate more about a position and ask somebody who has already done it: a true eye perspective is sometimes the best way to get a better idea of a position!
Also, knowing the different positions that exist in a farm will help you to understand the importance of your own job, and to have better relationships with your co-workers. Don’t forget that you never know how you will advance in your picking career! Maybe there are some positions that will suit you better than the one you chose in the first place. In other word, just be open-minded and try to understand the whole system you are part of!
If you wish to know more about a job that is not listed here, or if you wish to tell us about your own experience in one of those fruit picking jobs, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Contractors are employed by growers to source fruit pickers on their behalf, and to take responsibility for pickers’ wages.
As a worker, you probably won’t do this job yourself…nevertheless you will be confronted to contractors on the picking trail, as they tend to replace direct employment from the farmers. A contractor is someone that acts on behalf of a farm to employ workers for a specific(s) contract(s). Those contracts are usually limited by a period of time, and often specific to a certain crop. It means that the contractor will be your direct employer: he will be responsible of hiring you, paying you and dismissing you if you don’t fit for the job.
For a farmer, going through a contractor to recruit workers is a good way to diminish the administrative part of the recruitment process (less paperwork and no more employee dedicated to this task). The farmer pays the contractor, and then the contractor decides how much he will pay his employees. Also, contractors can provide a quick and easy solution to a shortage of workers; especially when it is “bumper crop” and farmers need a fast and temporary help.
The main problem, when working for a contractor, is to find an honest one. As they fix their own prices (margin), you have to make sure that they are still paying you at a decent rate. When it’s possible, try to compare the wage paid by a contractor with the wage of another worker doing the exact same job as you, but who is employed directly by a farmer. Many controversies took place in recent years concerning the increasing use of contractors to employ seasonal workers, as it unfortunately often resulted in a decrease of workers’ wages (click here for more info).
However it’s not always a bad idea to work for them. Some contractors can be very honest, treat you decently, pay good wages and make your job very simple! As they often have multiple contracts, it means they can provide work all the time (e.g. during a break in between 2 varieties). If you pick the right contractor, you will be able to work almost every day if you want to! This can be very useful when you don’t want to run door to door to find a short contract in between two varieties or two jobs.
Farm hand / Farm Worker
They are the silent and discreet workers of a farm. Even though the number of pickers can explode during the harvest period, farmers always need some permanent workers to help them during the rest of the year. Their tasks include: maintaining existing equipment, repairing default equipment, weeding around, controlling pests, maintaining trees (pruning, thinning, spraying…), etc.
Those various tasks don’t necessarily require many skills, and are usually paid hourly. After the harvest don’t run away! There are often opportunities of more steady jobs for those who are tired of moving around. Even if that is not always the best-paid jobs, you often work in a more laid-back atmosphere, and it offers the possibility to understand the whole production system. So if you like the place you are working at during the harvest season, don’t hesitate to enquire about further employment options.
As pickers like to call him, he is the “big boss”! A farm manager is in charge of “planning strategies for maximum yield, organizing farm administration, working machinery, organizing associated businesses and managing job” (Source). In other words, he is responsible for everything prior, during and after the harvest. It is obviously a job with a lot of responsibilities which casual workers won’t be able to conduct (unless you have a strong background in horticulture, logistic and management).
In big farms, the manager is a “normal” employee of the farm. His contract will be renewed if he carries out his tasks with success. He doesn’t necessarily need to know intimately the horticultural industry, as it is a general management job (we have seen some farm manager coming from the steel industry, and reconverted in the agricultural industry!). Of course, to have previous experience in horticulture is always a big asset for this position. Pickers often feel that farm managers are quite distant from them. This can be explained by the fact that they are not “on site” to see what is going on, but give their directive to the management team (supervisors, quality controllers, etc.) directly from their office. As they have important responsibilities and need to show results to the farmer employing them, they cannot spend too much time with pickers.
In smaller farms, the owner is often the farm manager at the same time (as well as many other roles!). The success of a farm owner will depend directly on the amount of energy he his willing to put in his business. He is often more committed to his activities. A bad crop one year can lead small farms to bankruptcy. Those farmers are often closer to their workers as they have probably done your job many times before. They can be stricter too as they grow their own fruits and therefore take more risk (unlike corporation in which multiple shareholders share the risk in between them).
Forklift drivers are in charge of driving a forklift, which is “a small vehicle with two power-operated prongs at the front that can be slid under heavy loads in order to lift and stack them” (Source: click here). In other words, they move bins of fruits/veggies from one point to another, unload tractors, etc.
You need a valid license in order to operate a forklift (inform yourself on the requirement to be a forklift driver, as regulation is different in every country). These jobs are paid above minimum wage, and can be done seasonally or all year round, depending on the farm/packinghouse.
Harvest manager / Packing house manager
The harvest manager’s task is to take care of everything related to the picking during the harvest: managing workers, verifying the equipments and machinery, planning the different activities of the harvest, etc. They are often employed as casual workers, as their competences may be only needed during the harvest time. Not all farms hire them. Small farmers will just do this task themselves, while other farms will have a farm manager that can take care of the harvest as well. Bigger farms employ a harvest manager to help the farm manager, as it is too much job for them otherwise.
The packing house manager task is to take care of everything related to pack a crop once harvested: managing workers of the plant, verifying the equipments and machinery, planning the different activities of the packing process, etc. They can also be seasonal workers, as their competences may be needed just during the harvest time. Most of the packinghouses hire a plant manager, as it is quite technical to understand how machinery works. However, not every farm has its own packinghouse. Most of them will harvest their own fruits, but have them packed by another company. A packinghouse is a big investment (we are talking millions of dollars!) as it requires lots of technologies, and therefore not every farm can afford it!
Packing fruit is another very common job for backpackers in the horticultural industry. Here again, lots of travellers like this option because it is a seasonal job, and also it doesn’t require many skills.
In a packinghouse, there is a wide variety of positions available during the harvest season: making boxes, working on the conveyor belt, sorting fruits, grading fruits, transporting pallets, doing some quality control, etc. Most of the time, a job in a packinghouse is paid hourly. In some occasional cases, sorting the fruit can be paid on contract (but it applies mainly to sorting cherries, and not everywhere).
Be aware that people subject to motion sickness should avoid working on a conveyor belt, as it can lead to similar symptoms (headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting…).
- Grading / Sorting: it consists in grouping the fruit depending on their size, shape, and colour. Then they are classified in several grades destine for different markets. Usually, “first grade” are the bigger and “nicer” fruits and will go to the export market. While smaller fruit will be sold in the local market. This operation is done with machineries in big packinghouse or manually in smaller structure.
For more information on this topic, read our article: Two Job, Two reality – Picking VS Packing: which job fit you the most?
It is the most famous job, probably because it represents most of the working force at the peak of the season. It is so popular that “fruit picking” or “picking” became words that refer to the whole industry, and not anymore to the specific action of harvesting the fruit/veggies. Backpackers have the tendency to choose this job in the first place, as they like to have a lot of flexibility in their job (with fruit picking, you can easily alternate travel and work periods).
Picking is the action of collecting fruit/vegetable from a tree or the ground. Sometimes, picking requires the use of an instrument, either to collect the fruit or to store it. For instance, you may need a clipper to cut mandarins, or you may need to use a bucket to collect cherries while picking them.
The diversity of picking job is quite important, and it would be too long here to describe every picking job. You have to remember that each picking job is unique, and therefore requires to develop special skills in order to become good at it.
Nevertheless, here are the main differences among the picking jobs you can find on the picking trail:
- “On a tree” VS “On the ground”
Most of the fruits will grow on a tree, while most of the vegetables are grown on the ground. Picking in a tree means that the use of a ladder will be probably required (unless you pick in small trees or bushes). So, if you are afraid of height, forget about it! Picking in a tree is usually better for your back, as you don’t have to bend over to get the fruits. It is also the favourite spot for bees and all sorts of insects. If you are allergic to them, be very cautious and always carry some epinephrine injection with you (upon medical prescription), no matter what!
Picking on the ground means being on your knees, or bending over to get the veggies. It also means no tree around to protect you from the bad weather or from the burning sun. In all cases, you should be prepared to work outdoors and always carry sunscreen, a hat, a rain jacket and plenty of water.
“Use of a tool” VS “Tool free job”
Working with tools means learning how to use them. Some tools are easier to manipulate than others. A ladder can seem easy to use (everybody agrees that climbing up and down is not a challenge!), but placing it in the exact right position is a whole different story! So the question you have to ask yourself is: “How can I be fully efficient with my tools in order to maximize my efficiency at work?” Most of the time, tools require maintenance. For instance, if you are using a knife in your job, you should sharp it quite often, in order to keep performing your task properly.
Working without tools means using your body to pick! Your hands will always be involved, so you better take care of them. Most of the minor injuries will concern your hands and are quite frequent (cuts, blisters, and tendinitis). So treat yourself with respect by treating quickly any injuries you may face.
“Contract job” VS “Hourly job”
Working on contract means that you will be paid depending on how much you pick. The faster you go, the better it is of course! It can be very challenging, but people that are willing to make the effort are often well rewarded with a good wage at the end of the day! Be aware that becoming good on contract is a matter of practice, and it won’t happen in one day…
Working hourly means that you are getting paid on a fix rate. This rate varies depending on the qualification of the job. If you work overtime, you should get compensation (nevertheless, you should always enquire about the regulation in each country on this matter).
“Individual work” VS “Teamwork” (when working on contract)
Individual work means that you are responsible to perform your job only by yourself. You can obviously have some “co-workers” doing the same job as you, but the money you make will only depend on how much you pick.
Teamwork means that all members of the team perform a task together. In order to be efficient, you should always choose your teammate carefully. A good sense of organization and excellent communication is necessary in between the team members.
For more information on this topic, read our article: Two Job, Two reality – Picking VS Packing: which job fit you the most?
Planting refers to the process of planting a young tree or some seeds to reforest an area or grow a plant.
In the fruit picking industry, it’s a job that is done when farmers are looking at renewing their trees or increasing their production with new plantings. They can pay on contract or hourly, depending of on the farm.
But for most people “tree planting” mainly refers to another job than fruit picking, i.e. working in the forestry industry for reforestation. If you work long enough in the fruit picking industry, you will probably meet some backpackers doing this job, especially in Canada (as the forestry industry is very active in this country). It can be quite profitable if you are quick enough, as it is paid on contract most of the time.
If you wish to learn more about tree planting jobs, you can visit this Canadian website that provides very good and complete information: Tree-planter
Pruning refers to the action of removing some parts of a tree (either old branches or new branches of the year). In order to maintain the trees in good condition, pruning must be done every year after the harvest (most of the time during the winter dormancy of the trees). The pruning helps trees to regenerate better and to produce more fruits during the next season.
A good pruning is a precious indicator to see if a farm is taking good care of their trees. For the picker, it means that fruit picking should be a lot easier because a good pruning helps a lot to have a better access to the fruits. You will notice that in the farm where pruning is not done properly (and in some cases, not done at all…) you will struggle a lot more to pick the fruits.
Pruning is a low season job and is done mainly in fall or in winter, depending on the type of trees. Sometime you can find some “summer pruning”, just before the harvest or straight after, in order to remove the “suckers” (mainly for cherries or apricots). In the vineyards, the pruning is done in the middle of the winter.
It is a job either paid on contract or hourly. Notice that pruning jobs can be very demanding physically (more than fruit picking) and include the use of multiple tools (e.g. clipper, pruning saw, ladder…), which can demand a lot of practice before mastering it!
The pickers like to talk about the quality controller as “the mean guy”. Of course, he is the one telling you when your quality is not good enough! If you don’t hear anything from him, that’s a good sign!
Quality controllers (or “QC’s”) are in charge of controlling if pickers respect the quality standards set by the farm for the harvest. It can be a job that applies to fruits that are either picked or packed. In both cases, quality controllers have to make sure that the acceptable amount of bad fruits is kept under control. This amount can vary depending on the variety picked, the damages in each block (e.g. hail, rain, sunburn), the number of fruits in the trees, etc. Everyday, the quality controller should be informed of the specific standards requirements, and should communicate this information to supervisors and/or pickers.
Having been a fruit picker previously is an asset to do this job, as it will help you to understand a lot more why the farmer is setting such quality standards. Also, you will be in a better position to advise somebody that struggle with quality. Quality controllers are paid hourly, often at a lower rate than supervisors as they have limited responsibilities. You can work either inside (packing house) or outside (field). It is a repetitive job that requires staying focused for long hours. You shouldn’t be too emotional, because it’s often the quality controller who is in charge of letting people know when they are doing a bad job… and some pickers can take it pretty badly (the picker’s pride can be quite big as you might know!).
Quality standards can change a lot depending on the farms and if you want to do this job, keep in mind that it is not something you can control. Depending on which market the fruits will be sent (local market vs export market) the quality standards will change. For example China tends to be a lot stricter in terms of quality controls than other countries (it can explain why you can smoke in some farms and not in other ones).
Supervisor (in a plant)
The role of the supervisor is to assign tasks to his employees, and then to make sure they are carrying them out properly. A supervisor takes his directives from the farmer or from the harvest manager. He should show a good example to the pickers, as he has to fulfil some important duties and represents the farm’s authority toward the workers.
In a plant, the supervisor can be in charge of different persons (e.g. quality controller(s), permanent employees, sorters, packers, grading employees, etc.). The bigger the farm, the more subdivision you will find and therefore each one might employ a specific supervisor (e.g. a supervisor for the department “making boxes”, one for the department “sorting”, one for the department “grading”, etc.).
Supervisors have to make sure that each employee performs his tasks properly. For instance, if the packers are working on contract and one person is not going fast enough, the supervisor may have to re-train that person. If it is still not enough, then maybe the supervisor will have to dismiss the employee. It is a job that requires a good knowledge of the horticultural industry and good management skills.
Supervisor (in a field)
The role of the supervisor is to assign tasks to his employees, and then to make sure they are carrying them out properly. A supervisor takes his directives from the farmer, the farm manager or from the harvest manager. He should show a good example to the pickers, as he has to fulfil some important duties and represents the farm’s authority toward the workers.
In a field, the supervisor is in charge of a team. The size of the group he has to manage can vary from 10 to 50 workers depending on the farm. He can also be in charge of other employees such as bucket boys, quality controllers, tractors drivers, etc.
A good supervisor must have a good knowledge of the industry, a good sense of organization and excellent management skills. This is a very demanding job that includes many responsibilities. A supervisor has to be able to take some important decisions quickly. For instance, a supervisor in a farm will have to decide which rows should be picked first, and how he will organize his pickers in order to pick the fruits in time. Being strategic is a key element to be an effective supervisor. It is not something easy, and it requires being very well organized.
Be aware that supervisor’s jobs are often seasonal, as farmers need them mainly during the harvest. Also, it can be difficult to have a good wage for this position, especially regarding the vast number of responsibilities you will have to assume…
Stringing (for Hops)
Stringing is the action of putting in strings between the ground and the framework of the hop plantation. The strings are attached first to the wires, and then they are hooked on the ground (sometime with several strings regrouped together). Have a look at this video to understand better the process of stringing hops:
This operation occurs in the late winter/beginning of spring, at the end of the dormancy season. This job is mainly paid on contract, but can also be paid hourly depending on the farms.
In winter, you might be able to find some maintenance jobs consisting in repairing the frameworks of the hops plantations. Then in spring, hops vines are attached to the strings, to grow and reach up to 5 meters high. Harvest of the dried female flowers occurs in late summer, beginning of fall.
Stacking consists in placing boxes of fruit/veggies in piles, on a pallet, at the end of the packing lines. This job is paid hourly and requires some strength, as you will have to lift some heavy load. Usually they try to hire tall people to do this job, as the pallets are often pretty high once complely stacked (up to 2,5m). If you are fit, tall, and have a good stamina, it can be a good job, as the shifts are usually pretty long (8-10 hours) and the hourly wage is often 2-3$ above the minimum wage.
Swamper / Bucket boy / Lifter
A swamper “in occupational slang is an assistant worker, helper, maintenance man or a person who performs odd jobs” (Source: click here). In fruit picking, a “swamper”, “bucket boy” or “lifter” is a person who helps unloading tractors with empty buckets and reloading them with full ones.
Buckets boys operate in orchards where fruits need to be processed quickly. For example, cherries can’t last very long on the sun once they have been picked. So they need to be quickly collected from the field and brought to the packinghouse as soon as possible.
This job is very demanding for the body: you have to be able to maintain an intense physical activity all day long! Most of the time, you’ll work in pair with a tractor driver, and sometimes with other bucket boys. It requires no qualifications, so it’s usually paid at the minimum wage.
A team leader “is someone who provide guidance, instruction, direction and leadership to a group of other individuals for the purpose of achieving key results or group of aligned results” (Source: click here).
This job mostly exists in big farms, where they have multiple teams to manage and don’t want to employ as many supervisors. Most of the time, a team leader gets a direct incentive to motive his team. For example, if workers are on contract, a team leader can receive a bonus depending on how much they picked during the day. The faster they pick, the bigger the bonus will be for the team leader! So the interest of the team leader is to train his co-workers well, in order for them to become faster.
In the fruit picking industry, thinning is used to remove the extra fruits on a tree, in order to leave enough room to the others to grow bigger. This is a seasonal job that can last for several weeks. Thinning occurs before harvest. It can be a good way to make your season last longer in the same farm. In apple orchards for instance, it is quite common to do the thinning, then the picking and finally the pruning. That way, you can almost work year round in the same farm!
Thinning jobs often require the use of a ladder. Some farms pay on contract, other hourly. If on contract, it is paid by the number of tree thinned during the day.
Tractor driver is a very common job in the horticultural industry. Tasks can be various: moving bins from one place to another, spraying trees with chemicals, watering the dusty paths, drying the trees after the rain, etc.
You need a valid license in order to drive a tractor (inform yourself on the requirements to be a tractor driver, as regulation is different in each country). This job is usually paid above the minimum wage, and can be done seasonally or year round, depending on the farm. It requires a lot of focus, especially during harvest time, as the number of persons working in the farm can increase significantly. This means having extra care for the persons working around (accidents with tractors drivers are unfortunately quite frequent!).
Vineyards need a lot of maintenance during the year, in order to produce grapes of good quality for the wine industry. In New Zealand and Australia most of the harvest is now done with machinery, and therefore isn’t providing as many seasonal jobs as it used to be in the past. In Canada however, vineyards are usually smaller and many of them are still hand-harvested, which means many picking jobs.
Here are some other frequent jobs that can be done in vineyards:
Removing most of the old canes from the vine, and only leave 2, 3 or 4 of them depending on the grape variety. This job is done in the winter while the vines are in their dormancy period. In New Zealand and Australia it is usually paid on contract (per plant) and occurs from June to September. In Canada, it’s often paid hourly and it is done in early spring (February to April). The pruning season is usually the busiest moment of the year for the vineyards, in terms of seasonal employees they need to hire.
Pulling the old canes (after they have been cut by the pruners) from the wire and put them on the ground. It’s a really tiring job and requires good strength and a good pair of gloves. In New Zealand and Australia it is usually paid on contract (per plant or per row).
Trimming and Wrapping
Trimming the remaining canes after the pruning has been done, and wrapping them on the wires. It’s paid on contract in Australia and New Zealand.
Some vineyards ask their employees to do pruning, pulling, trimming and wrapping all at the same time. Others will have different teams carrying out those different tasks.
removing the young suckers, in spring, from the trunk of each plant. Job paid on contract in Australia and New Zealand (per plant or per row).
before the pruning season, the wires are lifted to ease pruners’ job and to avoid damaging them. They must be put back down after the pruning.