200 rural contracting drivers will be granted special entry visas, but farmers fear MIQ delays could cost lives

Two hundred rural contracting drivers will be granted special visas as part of a border exemption for the industry.

The farming sector is grateful, but worries drivers will be delayed by the MIQ lottery system.

This farm machinery is more transformer than tractor and takes highly-skilled drivers to operate.

Usually 400 come here from overseas - but only 125 have been allowed in.

"It's the worst season that any of the contractors have ever experienced," Rural Contractors NZ CEO Andrew Olsen says.

So the Government's just cracked the border open to another 200 drivers.

"Two hundred will help relieve the pressure on a lot of people working hard across New Zealand in the contracting area," Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor says.

Rural contractors are pleased.

"It's a good result, and welcome news - but there are a number of elements to that that we need to press on urgently," Olsen says.

Urgently - because there are fears someone could die due to worker shortages causing an increase in accidents like flipped tractors and machinery driven into ditches.

"That wouldn't happen if you had experienced operators on the job, it's just down to lack of experience is the biggest thing," Waikato contractor Phil Hawke says.

The sector is disappointed the workers will still have to go through the MIQ lottery system - potentially delaying them by weeks or even months. After February 13 they'll be allowed to self-isolate instead.

But there are calls for overseas drivers to be allowed to self-isolate on farms immediately, working during the seven-day period isolated in their tractor cabs.

"Take some brave steps here to help the primary industry and let's get these people off the plane and into the paddock as soon as we possibly can," Olsen says.

"At this stage they would still pose a risk. They'll require MIQ," O'Connor says.

The Government is also letting in 40 shearers and 50 wool-handlers from overseas and making the dairy farming border exceptions more flexible.

It can't come soon enough as farmers work around the clock to plug the gaps.

"At the moment it's all day every day - just non-stop," Hawke says.

Hoping the help that's now on the horizon isn't held up by MIQ.