Dairy Sector Requests International Workers for Next Season

Dairy farmers are imploring the Government to let in 1,500 international workers for next year if borders remain closed.

Dairy NZ, Federated Farmers and Dairy Women's Network have requested changes to be made to class exceptions by Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.

They want workers to be able to quarantine in separate on-farm accommodation if they are fully vaccinated and adhering to COVID protocols.

Dairy NZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the difficulty with obtaining a MIQ space had been a major hindrance for the arrival of workers granted dairy class exception visas this year.

Restricting the dairy sector's access to international labour is causing unacceptable levels of stress for farmers and their teams, which creates a risk to animal welfare and limits the dairy's future productivity, said Mackle.

A recent survey by Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers found that half of the dairy farmers were short-staffed.

The request was a result of New Zealand unemployment rates falling to 3.4 percent - the lowest since 2007.

The survey showed that nearly 90 percent of farmers had tried to appeal to local employees through improving rosters, reducing hours, creating flexible milking schedules and increasing salaries, but the shortage remained palpable, said Mackle.

Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers immigration spokesman, said farmers needed certainty they would have access to international workers next year.

If borders remain closed, farmers need the processes streamlined to provide the confidence that they get staff into New Zealand quicker, he said.

Dairy Women's Network chief executive Jules Benton said the shortage had created unsustainably high levels of mental and physical fatigue, and the sector was concerned about the wellbeing of its people.

Industry bodies were trying to meet with O'conner to vie for border exception applications to open by February so workers could be on the farm ahead of calving season in July.