Dairy NZ says median wage 'too high' to ease worker shortage with migrant labour

Heading into the busy winter calving season, the dairy sector is still short of thousands of workers.

Covid-19 border closures over the last two years left the sector grappling with farmers unable to access labour from overseas.

Dairy NZ spokesperson Jane Muir said the situation has improved, but they remain concerned.

"We're hearing more and more that people, when they're advertising jobs they're getting a greater number of responses, but we're still short.

"Late last year DairyNZ did a survey and it had 22 percent of dairy farmers who employ staff saying that they were short-staffed, and on average it was by 1.2 people."

On job advert site Farm Source there are currently 944 dairy farm jobs being advertised, she said.

"But we know not everyone advertises on the site so we estimate that we are probably about 2500 people short."

Muir said it has become easier to get staff in from overseas - but the requirement to pay them the median wage of $29.66 is too high, especially when most jobs on offer are at farm assistant level.

She's hopeful backpackers will help fill the labour gaps.

"We really missed the working holiday visa holders during Covid, so it's great to see them back. We've seen some extensions to their visas and an opening up of the ability to work, which is really good.

"That group is quite mobile and they often hit the ground running, so hopefully they stick around for winter."

Muir said some farmers who have dealt with labour shortages for the past few years have changed on-farm practices to cope, such as changing milking frequencies and creating priority lists to ensure the right jobs get done first.

"The bit that we're worried about is that people will work longer hours, which is not sustainable and it's not good for wellbeing."

Muir said over the next two months farmers should be advertising as much as they can before the first calves arrive.