Dairy farmers working for months at a time amid staff shortages

Source: 1News

There are concerns about the mental health of dairy farmers amid ongoing staff shortages in the sector due to the pandemic and subsequent border closures.

Dairy NZ chief executive Tim Mackle this morning told Breakfast a Federated Farmers survey taken a month ago revealed about half of their dairy farms were short staffed, and it comes as they head into the labour-intensive calving season.

"We're talking numbers-wise about 2000 to 4000 (workers short)," he said.

"Why the big range? Well 2000 if you compare to last year, 4000 if we felt we were really properly staffed up because ongoing there's been a sort of ongoing understaffed scenario."

Mackle said that means grandparents, retired people and even teenagers before school are being called on to help with work which was "like the old days".

But he added, "it's tough, it's tough particularly for those out there who are doing the mahi every day".

"Often these people are younger people and they have families and that puts a big strain on them and they can do some very long days if they're short staffed right now, but more importantly too they can go on for many weeks."

Mackle said dairy farmers also did it tougher than usual last year so there was concern about their mental health due to the prolonged strain.

"Between 55 and 62 per cent both years of people [reported in a survey that they] had mental health issues or they knew someone close to them on their farm that was struggling a bit, so that's quite a large number, we're concerned about that," he said.

"For some I've spoken to they won't have a day off in months."

However, Mackle added that he is hoping the Government's announcement yesterday of quarantine travel for horticulture workers will benefit farmers.

One-way quarantine-free travel for seasonal workers from Covid-free Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu is being brought into the country to help fill the labour shortage in the horticulture and viticulture sectors.

"For the hort industry, great news yesterday, it actually might help us too by the way," Mackle said.

"The hort industry I think they had maybe 150-odd MIQ spaces every 16 days, so that will be freed up we hope and we've been saying to the Government officials 'look, let's actually tag our own class exemption workers, we've got 200 in train right now, to MIQ spaces'.

"Because that's one of the issues, those class exemption spaces are not actually tagged to MIQ, once you've got them through the process you've got to book MIQ so we hope that'll help us."

Mackle said the Government had helped, though, with retention by extending some one-year visas to two years.

"But that's not about bringing new people in, that's about trying to hold onto the people we've got."