Rural contractors say while they welcome signals the Government is recognising labour pressures in the farming sector, another challenge looms in their efforts to recruit enough skilled staff to keep New Zealand farms in production.

Andrew Olsen, CEO Rural Contractors NZ says securing sufficient MIQ space for 125 skilled machinery operators from overseas is the latest hurdle for his sector.

“It’s good to hear the Prime Minister today saying Cabinet is aware of the pressures the primary (and hospitality) industries face with labour and that extending visas is under consideration.

“Equally, we welcome Minister Hipkins’ comments about longer-term options being looked at for MIQ facilites. That said, neither of these moves will resolve the looming crisis which rural contractors face in 7 or 8 weeks time.”

“We’ve only been allowed a maximum of 125 skilled machinery operators to come in from spring and media keeps reporting no MIQ space is available over the next couple of months.”

Andrew Olsen says he’s raised the issue today while attending the Primary Industries Summit with a senior MPI official who undertook to see what, if any, space in MIQ facilities could be opened up for skilled machinery operators.

“Our members are completing applications for many more than the 125 skilled operators which the Government flagged for approval in May. They really need 3-4 times as many but heaven help them, farmers and their stock if spring arrives and that bare minimum is still waiting to get into MIQ.”

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor told the Primary Industries Summit today that the Government had provided spaces for a widening range of people but there were no absolute numbers for critically needed workers.  He said the Government had to balance all expectations.

Andrew Olsen says rural contractors appreciate there are only limited spaces but spring growth and crop harvesting for farmers wouldn’t wait for prolonged timeframes.

“We’re making every effort to train more Kiwis including the first of four 5-week courses starting at the Telford campus next Monday. Those trainees emerge with basic tractor operating skills but it takes much longer to gain required skills to utilise complex machinery. That’s why we need the 125 from overseas being ready to go by September.”