Tuesday, 25 August 2020 09:23

Locals only will not ‘cut the mustard’

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
RCNZ executive director Roger Parton. RCNZ executive director Roger Parton.

An estimated 28 million tonnes of crop worth $110 million will be at risk if overseas machinery operators are not allowed into the country, according to a new survey.

Rural Contractors of NZ says the survey conducted earlier this month of members found that 57 members, who provide harvesting services for 8200 farmer clients, need skilled agricultural machinery operators from overseas.

RCNZ executive director Roger Parton says 206 operators is the “the absolute minimum number” required for the contractors to service their clients.

These overseas workers will supplement the numbers of New Zealanders employed in these specialised, skilled roles.

Parton told Rural News that a new proposal has been submitted to the Government.

“I remain hopeful, and the three-week extension of Parliament will help us, as politicians will be in Wellington rather than campaigning,” he says.

He says suggestions by the Government that the agriculture sector will have to do without overseas operators “just won’t cut the mustard”.

Rural contractors bring in overseas operators every spring from Europe, UK and the US to supplement local operators in harvesting crops and silage. The onset of Covid-19 has closed borders.

This year, the overseas workers are required for October 2020 through to March 2021, although a few will cover the September to April period.

If the workers are not allowed in, the 57 rural contractors estimate a 32% downturn in their business worth just under $65 million, with flow-on effects on employment in the sector and jobs for New Zealanders.

“The value of crop which is at risk if these workers are not allowed in is estimated at 28 million tonnes with a value of $110 million,” says Parton.

He says the long-term implication for the agriculture sector is a possible shortage of feed next winter.

“And if a drought or another climatic condition affects us, there won’t be enough feed to meet demand: we could end up importing more PKE.”

Rural Contractors NZ is also asking the Government to allow an extended visa to cover the 14-day isolation period.

Not including the quarantine period in the visa would reduce the “the effective period” of the visa by 8%.

Parton says rural contractors are employing more than 1100 New Zealanders including many with the skills to operate large machinery. 

“This includes more than 500 New Zealanders recruited in the last year and many more in the last few weeks.

“Our members have also indicated in the survey that they can provide lesser skilled jobs for nearly another 250 New Zealanders, including those now taking part in training supported by Rural Contractors NZ.”

Meanwhile around 90 people attended an open day at Bluegrass Contractors’ site at Te Poi, Waikato.

Federated Farmers Waikato dairy chair Ben Moore says about 40 people left with information packs.

The event was organised to raise awareness among local machinery operators of jobs in the ag sector.

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Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

Horizon is also able to connect and combine data from non-Lely sources into a complete solution for the farmer removing the need to enter the same data twice, while scrutinising individual data streams in different applications will no longer be necessary. Currently, connections with farming applications such as Dairy Comp, Uniform-Agri, CRV and Herde already enable farmers to synchronise information about calving and inseminations between applications. Lely’s ambition is to connect with more partners over time, to hand the farmer more smart data.

To ensure full support in the migration to Lely Horizon, existing Lely T4C customers will be personally informed by their Lely Center before the end of 2020.

The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

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