Ireland – often the source of skilled farm machinery operators for rural contractors in New Zealand – is facing even worse shortages.

FCI Ireland which represents farm and forestry contractors, has recently written to the Irish Government saying some of its members will be forced to close their doors unless immigration rules change to allow NZ, Australian and South African operators to work there.Meanwhile, FCI chief executive Michael Moroney has written to Rural Contractors NZ asking for help to find skilled Kiwi tractor and machinery drivers who would like to work in Ireland during their grass silage harvest, which starts in May and runs to July.

“We are now facing a major shortage of seasonal machinery drivers. We know that many young Irish men go to New Zealand in our winter months, September to March to work with New Zealand contractors.

“Please let us know if there are young men available with these tractor skills that have worked with machines similar to the ones we use in Ireland. Alternatively, if you know of an agency that could source these young drivers.

“In the longer term, it would make good sense to join forces and provide a seasonal exchange of drivers that could provide these men with an interesting life and all-year round work for their special skills, which are much appreciated by contractors here in Ireland.”

In March, FCI’s national chairman Richard White sought an immediate meeting with  Ireland’s Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys to change Irish law which excludes NZ, Australian and South African farm machinery operators from taking up work.

He said farm contractors in Ireland turn over about 700m Euros (about NZ $1.2b), employ close to 10,000 people and operate about a third of the national fleet of 20,000 tractors.

“The farm contractor sector is finding it increasingly difficult to attract young entrant farm machinery operators,” said Mr White.

“We believe that without a temporary seasonal employment permit scheme in place, some farm contractors will be forced to cease operations entirely, due to skilled farm machinery operator availability, putting a threat to the prime mechanisation source that adds valuable and essential value to Irish farming and the Irish food industry.’’

The FCI sought information from RCNZ on its AIP scheme and how it worked; it wants to get a similar scheme in place in Ireland, with the ultimate goal of getting some form of national registration.

RCNZ CEO Roger Parton says while New Zealand’s situation is not as dire as that in Ireland, a major part of his job is bringing together the annual Agreement in Principle (AIP) with Immigration NZ and Work and Income which allows mostly Irish and UK machinery operators to work here in our summer season.

“Every week we get asked by contractors if we can help them find experienced operators. We hope the Government’s proposed move to employer-led immigration arrangements in rural areas will assist but that remains to be seen. We are happy to work with our Irish counterparts to help provide year round work – that’s a win-win for both countries, especially if the governments align.”