The first batch of overseas agricultural machinery operators could be in the country by mid-October, says Rural Contractors NZ (RCNZ) chief executive Roger Parton.
It’s clear that the cultivation and planting of crops could be in jeopardy if some skilled machinery operators aren’t allowed in.
Rural Contractors NZ has just finished surveying its members and has found that 57 contractors urgently need a total of 206 skilled operators.
They’re needed to service 8213 clients. Federated Farmers says many of those would be its members.
Without this annual influx of highly skilled drivers and operators, RCNZ estimates there would be a 32% downturn in activity, worth $65 million.
The effect of that would be the loss of nearly 28 million tonnes of production, with a value in excess of $110 million.
These are whopping numbers. Not allowing these skilled machine operators on the grounds that there are enough locals to do the job is absurd.
Timing is critical: we’re on the cusp of spring activity and we need to get these seasonal workers on flights and into quarantine for two weeks.
Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis wrote to the new Immigration Minister Kris Fafoi and his message was clear.
If managed entry can’t be found for the machinery operators, experienced senior dairy staff and a limited number of other skilled technical staff, there is significant potential for economic, health & safety and animal welfare issues across the primary industries that could otherwise be avoided.
Lewis rightly points out that exemptions have been allowed for workers laying synthetic tracks for horse racing, for the movie industry, and others.
The farming sector shares the Government’s desire to train Kiwis for these roles, and action is happening on that front. The 40 places on the first of six planned agricultural drivers’ courses at SIT’s Telford campus have all been taken.
They should graduate with the ability to safely drive a tractor, but not the combine harvesters and silage machines that can be worth a million dollars or more.
“Newer drivers need to gain experience with tractors on basic tasks in simple country before they can move on to more complex machines. The majority of fatalities in agriculture involve vehicles and the last thing anyone wants is inexperienced vehicle operators put in situations where they end up having an accident.”
The resurgence of Covid-19 last week marks a new twist. What happens over the next few weeks will be crucial.
For rural contractors, the agonising wait continues.