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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