Skilled worker shortage taking its toll on farmers' mental health - Federated Farmers

The labour shortage is placing increasing pressure on farmers.
The labour shortage is placing increasing pressure on farmers. Photo credit: Getty

With the agriculture industry facing a shortage of skilled workers, farmers' mental wellbeing is suffering.

The industry has a shortfall of hundreds of skilled foreign workers, who are unable to enter the country due to COVID-19, meaning there is increased pressure on farmers.

Federated Farmers dairy chair and rural health spokesperson Wayne Langford says the labour shortage is not just taking its toll on farmers' productivity, but also their mental health.

"With variable weather conditions and a lack of skilled contracting staff, farmers are being pushed to make questionable decisions, such as pushing on with mowing because if they don't they may not see the contractor again for weeks," Langford said on Tuesday.

"It's really tough on farmers' mental wellbeing seeing a crop they have grown sitting in the rain. Some farmers are working really long hours and pushing the boundaries of safety to get the job done."

The consequences of some of those "questionable decisions" would be seen immediately, while others might not be obvious until later in the season when poor-quality feed is fed to animals, Langford said.

"There are numerous photos on social media of work being carried out under poor conditions with the pressure on to get cultivation complete. Farmers feel particularly despondent about how they will achieve the new freshwater regulations under the stricter re-sowing dates that will apply next season."

Langford said he was pleased the Government had "taken some steps to alleviate staffing issues", such as by allowing time-limited border exemptions for up to 210 agricultural and horticultural machinery operators. 

However, the sector was still short around 200 skilled staff, he said.

It is estimated the dairy industry has around 700 positions needing to be filled, while a shortage of vets and experienced shearers is also a cause for concern, particularly in regards to animal welfare, Langford said.

"For the sake not just of farms but the wider economy, we need the best people in these roles."

The Government has acknowledged the issue in the past but says its priority is on training up New Zealanders to fill the positions. It says it is making every effort to get Kiwis looking for work trained up as quickly as possible so they can enter the industry and start working. 

Where to find help and support:

Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)