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Quarantine Pressure Thwarts Critical Worker Flow - Feds

Serious gaps in the agricultural contracting workforce have consequences such as animal feed shortages and risks to getting arable crops in next summer, Federated Farmers says.

"After favourable rain in many parts of the North Island in the last month, there’s a big emphasis on making grass silage to help cope if predicted droughts take hold," Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

"There’s so much work out there and not nearly enough operators."

Federated Farmers is deeply concerned by a statement from Rural Contractors New Zealand today that a lack of spaces in Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) facilities is thwarting the government-sanctioned flow of a limited number of foreign skilled agricultural machinery operators into the country.

"Farmers applauded the government for its decision in September to allow in 210 of these operators, most of them from Ireland and the UK, even though twice that number were need to meet seasonal demand," Lewis said.

"We’re really dismayed to learn only 58 have arrived to be either in MIQ or working, with 16 more with flights booked and holding MIQ vouchers. But another 61 still overseas cannot confirm places in MIQ facilities, and won’t arrive until mid-February - if then."

Last week Federated Farmers reported that some South Island farmers were getting silage/baleage cut in wet conditions out of desperation and fear that if they didn’t make use of contractors when they were available, there would be no-one available later on. Others were working extremely long hours and pushing the boundaries of safe operation.

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

Arable Chair Colin Hurst said traditionally the silage/baleage contracting workforce moved on to harvesting grain from mid-January. Operator delays or shortages could have a big impact.

"Farming is often all about the weather; timeliness is important and you seize your chances when the weather plays ball. Workforce gaps will just have a domino effect all over the place."

Chris Lewis acknowledged the government has all sorts of competing demands to balance, not least finding security and health staff to run MIQ facilities.

"With no international tourism, surely there is no shortage of hotel space.

"We can only ask that the authorities do their utmost to expand MIQ space and allocate vouchers according to the best interests of our wider economy," he said.

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