Friday, December 8, 2023

Farm machinery operator shortage now a crisis

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The shortage of managed isolation quarantine (MIQ) facilities for overseas farm machinery workers to meet seasonal demand has left the industry in crisis.
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Roger Parton | November 09, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

Rural Contractors New Zealand chief executive Roger Parton says while cabinet in September approved bringing in 210 skilled operators as critical workers for the 2020-21 harvest season, only 58 workers had arrived to be either in quarantine or working.

The lack of MIQ facilities meant there were 61 workers still overseas who cannot get MIQ vouchers until February, while another 16 who have flights booked are holding vouchers.

“That means that unless MIQ facilities are found urgently for these workers, only about one third of the workers approved by Cabinet will actually work in New Zealand.”

The shortage is the latest delay facing the industry.

Parton said he has written to the Ministers of Agriculture, Immigration, Covid-19 Response as well as the Prime Minister about the situation. 

His letter asks the Government to urgently secure 61 MIQ vouchers to allow remaining critical workers to fly to New Zealand and complete the essential harvest work that Cabinet approved.

“My members who need to bring in workers but cannot get MIQ vouchers this month are beside themselves with frustration and desperation,” he said.

In September, the Prime Minister advised 10% of MIQ facilities would be reserved for critical workers. Parton has now been advised there are no spaces available until February.

Rural Contractors New Zealand and MPI staff commenced work processing the applications immediately when the September 22 decision was announced before sending them to Immigration NZ.

Parton said MPI staff have been outstanding although some issues with the applications emerged, mainly due to unfamiliarity by all parties as to what was required and the process.

“This has now been mainly resolved but there still appears to be some delay in getting visas processed.”

The bulk of work for rural contractors started in September with the season well underway.

“The workers are needed now, not in middle to late February. Already some contractors have given up and decided not to bring in the overseas workers and not provide the level of service which they normally do for the clients.”

The MIQ shortage and the resulting worker shortage deeply concerned Federated Farmers’ employment spokesman Chris Lewis.

“After favourable rain in many parts of the North Island in the last month, there’s a big emphasis on making grass silage to help cope if predicted droughts take hold.

“There’s so much work out there and not nearly enough operators,” Lewis said.

Some South Island farmers were getting silage-baleage cut in wet conditions out of desperation and fear that if they didn’t make use of contractors when they were available, there would be no-one available later on. 

Others were working extremely long hours and pushing the boundaries of safe operation. The organisation’s dairy chairman Wayne Langford said these sorts of decisions ultimately affected on-farm profitability, some of which is seen immediately and the rest later in the season when poorer quality feed is fed to animals.

Its arable chairman Colin Hurst said traditionally the silage-baleage contracting workforce moved on to harvesting grain from mid-January. Operator delays or shortages could have a big impact.

“Farming is often all about the weather; timeliness is important and you seize your chances when the weather plays ball. Workforce gaps will just have a domino effect all over the place.”

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