Continued reliance on seasonal migrant workers 'problematic', says Ag Minister

A rural sector industry group has backed calls from the Minister of Agriculture to focus on training New Zealanders, rather than relying on seasonal migrant workers.

Minister Damien O'Connor spoke at the recent inaugural Tractor and Farm Machinery Association (TAMA) conference and in response to questions following his speech said the continued reliance on migrant workers during seasonal spikes was "problematic".

"Focus instead should be on the long term and therefore on training our own to be part of the most noble industry - feeding the world," he said

O'Connor said such investment in labour in the primary sector was long overdue.

"This industry has invested a lot in land, a lot in technology and a lot in machinery but we've invested as little as we can in labour," said O'Connor.

Damien O'Connor spoke at the recent TAMA conference.
Damien O'Connor spoke at the recent TAMA conference. Photo credit: Supplied

"The system has failed because we just don't have enough skilled people. We need to deliver what the economy needs. At the moment we have fewer people going into vocational training and far less coming out. We don't want to disrupt unnecessarily but we do need to change things."

The need to train young people was echoed by TAMA president John Tulloch who said the tractor and farm machinery sector had to work together to develop a strong career pathway.

"There are many exciting and challenging career opportunities within our sector, especially within the technology area, but school leavers need to be made more aware of them," he said.

The need for skilled workers was the major theme of the conference with many other speakers pointing to this as being a more pressing issue for the industry than rising costs and extreme weather events.

The first-ever TAMA conference was attended by about 70 people from across New Zealand, including farm machinery importers, manufacturers and retailers.