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Feds: Staff Shortages Are Undermining Safety, Mental Wellbeing

Skilled staff shortages are not only taking a toll on productivity but also farmer mental wellbeing, Federated Farmers Dairy Chair and rural health spokesperson Wayne Langford says.

"Farmers across New Zealand are having to push the limits to get silage/baleage cut, with many crops in the South Island being harvested when it’s wet.

"With variable weather conditions and a lack of skilled contracting staff, farmers are being pushed to make questionable decisions, such as pushing on with mowing because if they don’t they may not see the contractor again for weeks."

Langford said these sorts of decisions ultimately affect on-farm profitability, some of which is seen immediately and the rest later in the season when poorer quality feed is fed to animals.

"It’s really tough on farmers’ mental wellbeing seeing a crop they have grown sitting in the rain. Some farmers are working really long hours and pushing the boundaries of safety to get the job done.

"There are numerous photos on social media of work being carried out under poor conditions with the pressure on to get cultivation complete. Farmers feel particularly despondent about how they will achieve the new Freshwater regulations under the stricter re-sowing dates that will apply next season."

The government has taken some steps to alleviate staffing issues by allowing time-limited border exemptions for up to 210 agricultural and horticultural machinery operators. But the sector is still short of around 200 of these skilled staff, who can’t be trained overnight. It’s estimated there are more than 700 dairy jobs unfilled, and the shortage of vets and experienced shearers is a huge worry to livestock farmers.

"Of course with border restrictions we need strict quarantine arrangements to keep the pandemic at bay, but I really encourage Ministers in Jacinda Ardern’s new Cabinet to listen with an open mind to farmers and contractors on these issues," Langford said.

"For the sake not just of farms but the wider economy, we need the best people in these roles."

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