South Canterbury dairy farmers are welcoming news 300 international dairy workers will be allowed to enter New Zealand under a border exemption this year.
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STUFF Federated Farmers national board member and employment and immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis said every industry that has relied on an international workforce in the past is crying out for workers. (File photo)

Federated Farmers national board member and immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis said many dairy farmers were desperate to get team back up to strength before calving and the announcement would help provide relief.

“Farms are short thousands of staff, and with continued low domestic unemployment workers from overseas are the only option to plug the gaps in many parts of New Zealand.”

Lewis said the industry, farmers and the Government had done all they could to attract and retain Kiwi workers, but the need for international labour remained.

He said every industry that has relied on an international workforce in the past is crying out for workers.

“Federated Farmers has advocated strongly and consistently for the agricultural sector, now it is up to the farmers to fill these exception spots.”

Glenavy dairy farmer Bruce Murphy said he sees the announcement as positive news because the Government is finally recognising the pressure on the dairy industry with regard to staffing levels.

“So many people are running short on staff,” Murphy said.

“We are fortunate in our business to be fully staffed, but I know a lot of share milkers who are running short on staff, and it’s stressful for them.”

Murphy said the workers on his farm have become family, adding value to New Zealand. He said the announcement means that there will be a bigger pool of farmworkers for dairy farms around New Zealand.

He said he’s owned his farm for more than 30 years, and in all that time he has never seen so many farms under pressure from a shortage of workers.

“It’s not just the dairy farms, but everyone is short of staff like the farm support industries.”

Waimate dairy farmer Ben Hart said while he sees the news as positive, allowing just 300 workers through the border is a “far cry” from what needs to be done.

“I’ve been okay, but I know a lot of people who are short on staff,” Hart said.

“It [shortage of staff] puts extra pressure on the business.”

Hart thinks 300 workers won’t be enough to ease the pressure on dairy farms suffering from a shortage of employees and the actual number of workers needed would be in the thousands.

Federated Farmers said it had worked with the Ministry for Social Development for more than a year, attracting more than 525 people to work in the sector through the ‘Get Kiwis on Farms’ programme.

“If we want Kiwis to see an attractive future in the industry, and to stop burning out our existing workers, we need the right number of people to staff our farms,” Lewis said.

“Every employer wants to offer a favourable work roster and more days off, but without enough people to employ this isn’t possible.”

Employers can apply through DairyNZ for nomination and have a class exception visa granted by Immigration New Zealand. A class exception is already open which allows 200 dairy workers to enter New Zealand, and has been partially filled.

For both class exceptions, workers are able to enter New Zealand from March 5.

Global economic uncertainty apparently isn’t diminishing foreign demand for U.S. cheese, according to a monthly market update from the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). Multiple factors, especially adequate cheese supplies at competitive prices, put the U.S. in a position to continue export growth in the near term and increase its presence in the international market.

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