By Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers employment spokesperson
It is February and farmers are – or should be – thinking about their employment needs for next season. It’s the right time to have a chat with staff on what they are thinking for the coming year and their goals for progression in the industry.
It is also a good time for future farm employees to think about the possibilities in the primary sector. While we all need good people on the farm, it’s not just about milking cows, shifting sheep or picking fruit. We need many other people to keep the industry going, such as truck drivers, farm consultants, milking machine fitters or even those working for the great team at Federated Farmers.
You can enjoy all the great things about NZ farms with or without directly working on them. There’s a place for almost everyone in the industry and many different skills are required. All parts of the sector are currently working hard to attract, retain and progress people in farming but there are still many more helping hands needed to keep the farm running.
In the last 12 months Feds has successfully run the www.getkiwisonfarm.nz programme that has helped over 500 Kiwis, at no charge to them, get the top-notch wet weather and other gear they need for a head start on our members’ farms.
Recently DairyNZ has given www.godairy.co.nz a steroid injection and is running many ads on tv and social media highlighting the opportunities available on the farm.
The key is getting well-trained young people starting at entry level, train them up with quality skills, equip them to progress and help them to climb the food chain into management and eventual farm ownership if that is their aim. This system has big rewards but they often take many years to achieve and are definitely not a short term goal.
We run a successful awards system to help highlight those pathways – the NZ Dairy Industry Awards. It has regional finals and a national awards night, attended by hundreds of people, and big prizes on offer. It highlights for others what is possible and helps reward those who are well on their way to success in the industry.
The end-goal for many working on farms has been using their time in the industry to find a career pathway to farm ownership. The way to this end goal was never easy, not for my parents’ generation, nor for my wife and I, nor even our kids into the future, but it still exists, and I have many neighbours and friends who are a testament to that.
Farmers have always needed a broad skill-set and that requirement has never been more pertinent than now. We want the modern farmer to specialise in employment, water quality, animal health, pasture management, finance, technology and worker wellbeing. We want our industry to offer modern housing, flexible hours and favourable rosters to attract more Kiwis. The modern farm owner or manager cannot do any of this if they are so under-staffed that they have to do everything themselves.
At 3.5% domestic unemployment and 90% of our population living in the cities, there are not enough Kiwis to fill our entry-level farm vacancies from the domestic workforce alone. For many NZ farmers, international workers provide an essential source of reliable staff to help fill junior vacancies. When all the local hard-working New Zealanders have been promoted above these positions or are already in employment elsewhere, these international workers fill a vital role.
The current inability for international entry-level farm workers to cross the border means that we are desperately short of workers to milk cows, shift breaks and operate machinery on our farms. We are never going to attract our brightest and our best if they know there isn’t enough people to work beside them and help get the job done.
The benefits of a good immigration framework also flow two ways. For a Filipino/Indonesian farm worker, working in NZ gives them the opportunity to raise their monthly salary from $500 a month to $5000-7000. It also teaches them our leading-edge skills to take home, so their farming industries can improve food safety standards and increase productivity through the use of new technology and modern farming techniques.
With our good keen Kiwi farmers climbing the ladder of opportunity that our industry provides, we still need the entry-level farm staff to support them. We want our people to progress and be the great business and people managers they can be, but without the right number of workers on the farm we cannot modernise the industry and make it the great place to work that it should be.