A newly-released KPMG report suggests morale in the agribusiness sector is dangerously low, compounding concerns the national Fieldays may not be quite the money-spinner it normally is.
The biggest agricultural gathering in the world since the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off at Mystery Creek near Hamilton on Wednesday, with 120,000 people expected this week.
The KPMG report out on Wednesday blames the drop in farmers' morale on labour shortages, COVID supply issues, and tougher regulations on farmers.
"People are starting to think about where their future is in the sector. It has a huge opportunity but we have got to be able to retain those we've got which means things have to change," says Ian Proudfoot, KPMG agribusiness report author.
But the Government says it has a plan in place.
Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri says the Government is investing in partnerships with the industry to both grow the workforce and address challenges with bringing automation in.
Fieldays generates $500 million for businesses involved each year, but a letter sent to the Government last month by Hamilton's mayor and tourism boss suggests the amount agribusiness visitors will spend could be severely impacted by Waikato's accommodation crisis.
Half of all accommodation in Waikato is still in use for MIQ and emergency housing.
"Each visitor contributes $350 per visit on food, shopping, and accommodation, so if we lose that, it's a big economic hit in the middle of winter," says Jason Dawson, CEO at Hamilton and Waikato Tourism.
But inventors like Sean Walters haven't been put off. There's no need to man the tractor when weeding or spraying with his retro-fitted obstacle-detecting robot.
"Customers already have tractors and mowers that do those jobs today, what they don't have is the technology that enables those tractors to drive by themselves without a human on board," he says.
The country's universities have collaborated to offer hope to the horticultural industry this year.
Robotic asparagus harvesters and augmented reality robots in vineyards to scan vines for disease are among the Innovation Award entries.
"As the orchard manager comes through the next morning, it has a big flashing arrow that says you need to assess this particular vine," says the University of Auckland's Henry Williams.
As for lambing, there's a built-in pain relief tool that offers kinder castration that is captivating the crowds.
The future of Fieldays looks a lot more secure than this time last year.