An urgently-arranged meeting last Thursday with Primary Industries Minister Damien O’Connor has seen Rural Contractors NZ surveying members to determine how many skilled machinery operators need to be brought in for the coming spring/summer season.

RCNZ president David Kean says there is mounting concern among contractors that without skilled operators much of their machinery will sit idle, causing havoc for farmers and contractors alike.

He fronted a stormy packed meeting of RCNZ members in Gore on his return to Southland from meeting Damien O’Connor last Thursday evening.

“We had 60 people, contractors and their wives and partners. They’re stressed because they’ve financed millions of dollars of machinery. These are in the yard ready to go but in many cases, there are not enough Kiwis with the skills to drive them.’’

The RCNZ deputation included himself, former President and Canterbury contractor Steve Murray, CEO Roger Parton, Invercargill contractor Daryl Thompson and Otorohanga contractor Julie Clark.

David Kean says the RCNZ supports the Government’s wish to train New Zealanders.

“We’ve worked with the Southern Institute of Technology to do initial expos and now we’ve got 40 people going through the first of six courses at the SIT Telford campus. We’re also working on North Island courses.”

However, while such six-week courses may provide people with sufficient skills to drive a tractor safely, a big piece of equipment such as a combine harvester or sileage machine needs much more in the way of training and skills development.

David Kean says he told the Gore meeting that rural contractors are suffering from the same impacts as many other businesses hit by COVID-19.

“We are in the same boat. It’s not anybody’s fault but it’s not a one-minute fix. That said if we can’t get some of these workers in, there will be major impacts for farming output as well as for contractors.”

RCNZ CEO Roger Parton says contractors have been taking on New Zealanders displaced from other work in recent weeks, but some say if their former jobs open up again in tourism or aviation, they will go back to those roles.

“Also, like farming, we’ve got vacancies to fill but even if people have the skills or capacity to acquire them, many people don’t want to move from Remuera to Rangitkei, or even commute 100km from Queenstown to Mossburn.’’

After meeting Damien O’Connor and his MPI officials, Roger Parton is now surveying all RCNZ members to determine the exact number of skilled machinery operators required for the looming season.

“The replies to the survey are roaring in and I’d estimate there may be need for up to 1000 skilled machinery operators. We’ve got 337 identified in the Approval in Principle process that RCNZ brings together for members – but that’s only a part of the picture,” he says.

Some contractors bring in skilled operators through their own AIPs and others depend on people with agricultural contracting skills who come to New Zealand on the Working Holiday visa scheme.

David Kean says the Working Holiday scheme can’t operate without open borders and RCNZ understands it needs to work with the Government to fill all the gaps it can before it looks to bringing in people under the Essential Workers category.

“We know our timing isn’t great with the fresh concerns about COVID-19 from those still coming in. That said, our way out of this economic crisis is through our primary industries and we are key players in that.

“We’ve said to the Minister we will do all we can to employ Kiwis and also accept anyone coming in to meet the shortfall will be in quarantine for two weeks at our expense.

“The critical thing now is getting numbers confirmed and arrangements underway in time to meet the farming community’s requirements once spring arrives,” says David Kean.

Contact: Roger Parton, CEO, RCNZ  021 301 522