SYDNEY, AAP – Retired soldiers are swapping their fatigues for farm gear and volunteering to help NSW growers hamstrung by labour shortages to harvest one of the first bumper crops in years.

Domestic and international border restrictions have left the state’s farmers struggling to find labourers, the latest in a string of challenges – including drought, bushfires and a mouse plague – that have beset the industry.

Grain growers are now facing a shortfall of around 1000 workers, NSW Farmers’ Grains Committee Chair Matthew Madden said on Wednesday.

But former Australian Defence Force members have stepped up to fill the gap with the help of organisations like NSW Farmers which is connecting their skilled members with farmers, contract harvesters and grain supply chain businesses.

“The availability of seasonal workers has dropped drastically since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while inconsistent rules around interstate travel have further reduced confidence in our ability to shore up an adequate workforce in time for harvest,” Mr Madden said.

“We need a timely and successful harvest and the experience of former ADF servicemen and women in areas such as heavy machinery handling will make them ideal candidates for grain harvest roles, many of which are skilled or semi-skilled.”

The group also wants locals to roll up their sleeves and help with the harvest as well, and is calling on the federal government to fast-track the approval of foreign workers under the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme.