14 Mar 2018

Dairy farmers struggle to find workers

4:19 pm on 14 March 2018

Dairy farmers are struggling to find workers for lower skilled jobs because of changes with immigration laws and farm ownership, says a rural business advisor.

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Photo: 123RF

Under new rules introduced by the National government last year immigrant workers in low skilled jobs have to, after three years, leave for 12 months before returning on new visas.

At the time the dairy industry said this would leave huge holes in the farming workforce, and called for immigration to recognise the specific role of migrant workers.

The dairy sector also has a declining number of sharemilker operated farms, which is the traditional way that people work their way up to farm ownership.

Justin Geary from NZ Farm Management recruits workers for the dairy industry, and said these two factors are driving employment challenges.

"With the number of people applying for these jobs and the calibre of people applying ... we're seeing a drop off in the average skills and the number of applicants we get for these roles."

With Gypsy Day just around the corner, Mr Geary said the shortage or workers will motivate employers.

"If they've got good staff, that they're looking after and trying to create a work environment that they don't want to move on from.

"Sometimes people have to take an applicant that is not their first choice."

Mr Geary said the main driver behind worker shortages is the immigration law changes.

"There doesn't seem to be the pool of that lower level or farm assistant type role ... there's not as many with the squeeze around immigration."

Mr Geary said there's no easy fix to the problem, but farm owners are making more of an effort to create a job that aligns better with a job in town.

"So there's a lot of times on farms when there's a few extra hours required to get the job done, particularly around calving.

"But there has been a real push to manage the hours that people are working on farms, there's a bit of technology being used on farms to help with that."

Mr Geary said the drop in sharemilkers is return-driven, with more farm owners wanting to own their own herd and employ contract milkers.

This change has altered the career ladder in the dairy industry, and there are now more equity partnerships, he said.

"When you start on farms as a farm assistant, which is generally where most people start, and work your way through the varying roles ... you get to a management or contract milking level and you start to look at what the next options are ... and at the moment that is quite limited."