By Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers national board member
I’ve been talking to a lot of Feds members lately about why we need migrants on our farms. It’s no different to the conversations I’ve had with builders, tilers, machinery operators … and the list could go on longer than the length of this article.
With continued low unemployment a lot of industries are struggling for staff. And in our case, with most available workers remaining in the urban centres, all of the primary industries/rural towns are crying out for labour.
Farm Source, a leading job website for the dairy industry, currently lists over 1100 vacancies on farm, far higher than the usual number for this time of year.
I have talked a lot in media lately about why retention of the staff we have is the most efficient and cost-effective option. From all accounts, this has been an area of extensive focus of late with wages increasing significantly, and better hours and conditions put in place.
There has been a lot of leadership shown by our farmers on this subject. But this does not solve the labour/skills shortage.
There is still big shortfall, and we don’t control all the levers as the government does.
We can’t control urbanisation, nor the housing shortages that effect immobilisation of labour.
Federated Farmers has asked the Government to allow 500 skilled dairy staff into New Zealand for the new milking season. A survey was undertaken in March to gain a better understanding of the staffing issues on dairy farms. The survey had 1150 responses in just one week.
Survey results showed that 49% of dairy farmer respondents were currently short-staffed; 46% had vacancies unfilled for more than three months; and nearly a quarter had been unable to fill a gap on their team for more than six months.
But I don’t want this opinion piece to just be a moan about all the things we can’t control right now. There are some things we farmers can control, that may not affect you in the short term, but long term it does.
With some farmers I talk to, their kids don’t want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. That’s fair enough; they’re all individuals with different interests. But the biggest pool of agricultural staff traditionally has been the sons and daughters of our farmers and their staff.
If we all can’t encourage the ones closest to us on the benefits of farming – the lifestyle, the housing, the great outdoors and working with animals, the motorbikes and all the rest of it – then how do we convince non-farmers?
We need to think long term. What does succession planning look like and who is going to buy your farm?
Planting it in trees is not the solution for a prosperous rural community.
So, in the next year, I encourage you to take time out and have a think about who’s going to be farming your farm in 20 years and does that vision reflect your values and vision for rural New Zealand for your family?
Make the effort to talk to your family and your advisors about what you could change; these potential adjustments take time.
One of the best things we did as an industry was to develop the sharemilking systems – a career pathway to farm ownership, envied by the rest of the world.
Let’s still be the world leaders on everything and take satisfaction from looking ahead to the next generations, putting in place the plans that will allow family to carry on your values and vision for your community into the future.
My family has been connected to New Zealand farming since 1863, something we are very proud of.
If you can take time out of your busy calendar to promote farming to those closest to you on your farm, and to children at the local schools by way of a farm field trip, tree planting day or the like, that would be very rewarding and helpful, because the genuine story told by our passionate members is more powerful than any initiative I’ve seen of late.
We also need to be on the lookout for opportunities to make farming enjoyable and fun for our own youngsters. How many times have we heard about farmers’ kids who don’t want anything to do with farming after seeing mum and dad slaving away every hour of the day and worrying about the mortgage. Injecting some fun and family time into our routines can be just as important an investment in the long-term future of our farms and wellbeing as the latest bit of machinery or technology.