Farmers fear someone will die as shortage of experienced overseas workers leads to rise in accidents

The farming sector fears someone may die because a shortage of workers has led to a rise in accidents with heavy machinery. 

With the border still closed, contractors are working longer hours and using less experienced drivers to try and plug the gaps.

Lines of hay are frantically being baled as contractors try to keep on top of their massive workload.

Waikato contractor Phil Hawke's barely slept for months.

"Everybody is totally knackered, your home life does suffer," he says.

"Been doing it for 43-odd years and this would be the toughest year."

That's clear when you see his yard - a million dollars of machinery parked up because there's no one to drive it.

"You've spent the money to buy the good gear to get work done and you can't do it. It is heartbreaking."

Contractors rely on experienced overseas drivers who follow the cropping seasons around the globe - working in the big, technical machines.

They're calling for 194 agricultural machinery operators to be allowed in immediately because without them, there's been an increase in accidents.

"There's been quite a few accidents and near misses, more so than normal," Federated Farmers immigration and employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

"It seems to be more this year than the previous 10 years."

And Hawke is scared somebody is going to get killed.

So the sector has sent photos of machinery accidents including flipped tractors to the Government and met with ministers on Friday - urging them to take the worker shortage seriously with accidents being caused by tired or inexperienced drivers.

"For an association to send a three-page letter, 'yours sincerely and please hope' wasn't going to cut it, but pictures tell a thousand stories," Rural Contractors NZ CEO Andrew Olsen says.

Last year rural contractors begged ministers to let 400 overseas workers through the border but just 125 were granted visas, leaving many locked out.

A Government announcement is expected on Sunday about border class exceptions for machinery operators, however the sector worries it won't happen quickly enough and will take too long to get drivers into tractor cabs.

"People are losing hope and they need workers now," Olsen says

"It's cutting into the fibre of the primary production of New Zealand. In some cases 'for sale' signs are out at smaller contractor places.

And with maize ready to harvest in February, time is running out.