For want of workers . . .


For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The problem in New Zealand is not a shortage of horse shoe nails but a dire shortage of workers:

A critical lack of workers in New Zealand is pushing the meat industry to plead with the Government to urgently allow in more overseas staff.

Major meat processor and exporter Silver Fern Farms says it’s one of the most challenging years to date for accessing skilled labour. It says that the company’s plants are not fully manned and warns that livestock may not be able to be killed – especially if it gets dry – risking hard-fought international markets and valuable export revenue for the country.

“We are presently about 550 people short across our processing network. We have a number of initiatives underway to help address this, including raising our minimum productive rate by 10%,” SFF chief executive Simon Limmer told Rural News.

“However, we are constrained by the historic low unemployment rate here and the reality is that bringing in overseas workers is going to need to be part of the solution. In particular, we’ve been asking the Government to allow us to bring in AIP workers from the Pacific Islands. We’ve had this successful arrangement for 12 years, and it has increased production levels here as well as providing these workers and their family excellent earnings.” . . .

Staff shortages are delaying lamb processing. Feed covers have been good, lessening pressure to get stock away form farms, but recent dry weather could change that.

“The kill profile is late this season and any significant dry period from this point on, coupled with labour-related capacity reductions, will create livestock pressure on farm.”

Alliance Group’s general manager of manufacturing Willie Wiese told Rural News that NZ’s meat processing and exporting sector has a chronic labour shortage and this has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Without sufficient labour, we cannot run our plants at the desired capacity,” he says. “The border closure, as well as the limited managed isolation spots, have prevented us from employing seasonal workers from overseas to help make up the shortfall in numbers we can recruit locally.”

Wiese says Alliance Group is currently between 200-300 workers short during what is an extremely busy processing period, in particular for the Easter chilled programme for the UK and Europe.

“Importantly, we require additional halal butchers. Over 90% of animals are processed in the halal manner because that provides f greater flexibility to send different parts of the same carcass to various markets. That means fewer opportunities for hardworking Kiwis and fewer value-add products going to our markets.” . . 

Prices for red meat are reasonably good this season but that could easily change.

“Building valuable relationships with customers takes time and is underlined by consistently delivering on a commitment to supply product to customer specifications. These relationships are hard won but easily lost when customers have many global choices for supply, and when we don’t have the labour capacity to enable us to deliver to customers’ needs and return greater value to farmers.” . . 

The dairy industry is also short of staff:

Dairy farmers say they urgently need 1,500 overseas workers within the next six months.

While farmers are happy with changes announced last month to the existing class border exception for 200 dairy workers, they desperately need more skilled workers from overseas.

Farmers were happy with the announcement but like so many form this government, the announcement wasn’t followed by action.

Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis says the dairy sector cannot afford another calving season without skilled staff.

“We urgently need reinforcements,” he told Rural News. “We have managed two calving seadons by cutting corners. Staff are burnt out, stress levels are very high and another calving season like the past two years will result in some sad statistics.”

Securing MIQ spots remains the biggest hurdle to get workers into the country. Of the 200 border exceptions for dairy workers issued last year, only a handful arrived in the country. . . 

Border exceptions were welcomed but that’s only the first step in getting workers into the country.

However, Lewis says border exceptions are useless unless the overseas workers can secure MIQ spots.

“I suspect the electric driverless tractor would make a appearance quicker than a MIQ outcome. Border exception is just the first part of the process of getting the overseas workers in,” says Lewis.

Employers and their workers are still faced with a complex and lengthy process to get employees into New Zealand and working on farms.

“Employers and their workers will need to work closely with their respective industry groups to sort MIQ, flights and all the associated paperwork.

“This is not an easy or cheap task for either party, but with unemployment at such low levels this is really the only option for much of the primary industries at the moment.” . . 

Rural contractors are similarly frustrated:

Despite rural contractors being told in mid-December they could bring in 200 skilled machinery operators into the country, not one has been given any MIQ space.

Rural Contractors NZ chief executive Andrew Olsen describes getting MIQ space as like peeling an onion.

“It’s layer after layer and it brings tears of frustration for our members who are already working impossibly long hours and as yet have not even been able to lodge Expressions of Interest for staff positions, which Ministers had approved to come in.”

Olsen says despite the best efforts of MPI staff to help find MIQ beds for the approved operators, the indications now are that few, if any, will be available until March at the earliest for rural contractors.

“This will mean many of them will pass on the option to bring workers in. It’s just too late, too hard and too stressful for contractors who are working their guts out trying to help farmers get in crops and ensure animals can be fed.” 

Olsen says RCNZ and Federated Farmers, supported by MPI, have done everything they could to help contractors meet a crushing labour shortage.

“We understand and respect that the resurgence of another Covid variant and border entry changes have put the squeeze on MIQ,” he adds. “That said, those risks would have been part of the assessment when we had Ministerial approval just on a month ago to bring in the desperately needed 200 machinery operators.”

Olsen says rural contractors whose work is essential to food production and our export economy, find themselves towards the back of the MIQ queue.

Olsen is now calling on the Ministers of Immigration and Agriculture and the Prime Minister’s Office to act.

“We received approval December 12 and now more than a month on we’re looking at another two months before the first arrivals,” he adds. . . 

Harvesting is well under way. Workers are needed now and the shortage will put pressure on existing staff which will increase the risk of accidents and crop wastage.

Primary industries have been one of few bright spots in the export sector.

When the other big export earner – tourism – is in the doldrums with little hope of a turn around in the short to medium term, the need for farming and horticulture to be operating at their peaks is even greater than normal.

The government has been warned about the worker shortage and the consequences of it and last month’s announcement of more MIQ spots gave employers hope.

But like so many other of its announcements it has failed to deliver and so for want of workers primary production and processing are under unsustainable stress.

Word of the day


Cockade – a rosette or knot of ribbons worn in a hat as a badge of office, or as part of a livery; a decoration that is worn on a hat especially as part of a uniform to show a person’s status or rank; a feather or ribbon worn on military headwear.

Sowell says


Sowell says


Rural round-up


2022 will be tumultuous for New Zealand’s primary industries – Keith Woodford:

This year is not going to be just any year for the food and fibre industries. On the prices front, things should go well for most products. However, on the policy front, it is the second year of the three-year political cycle, and that has implications.

This is the year when key implementation decisions must be made on multiple political issues. It is all about setting up the glide path for the next election.

For the food and fibre industries, and this includes carbon farming, these key decisions have potential to determine the path for the next decade. I reckon there is going to be quite some heat, and I am not referring here to the weather.

First of all, the good news. . . 

‘I’m where I’m meant to be’ farm life works out – Sally Rae:

Central Otago agronomist Jaimee Pemberton traded the city for country life and has not looked back. She talks to business and rural editor Sally Rae.

When Jaimee Pemberton was growing up in Timaru, she pondered three very different career paths — agriculture, marine biology and drama.

Those diverse options could have resulted in very different lifestyles, but the 28-year-old former city girl has no regrets about choosing a career in the rural sector.

“I just think I’m where I’m meant to be,” she said. . .

Stag fetches $135k at annual sale – Sally Rae:

The first stag on offer at Netherdale Red Deer Stud’s annual elite sale at Balfour this week lived up to its sale-opening billing, fetching a whopping $135,000.

The 3-year-old stag, which attracted a “huge” amount of interest before the sale, was sold by David and Lynley Stevens to a South Canterbury syndicate.

Mr Stevens described it as a big, quality animal with a “beautiful” head, and one that he would normally have kept as a stud sire if he had not had something else in the paddock.

It was a record price for the stud which was holding its 35th sale. . . 

Free lunchtime chats to boost farmer resilience :

Three of New Zealand’s foremost motivational speakers on resilience and mental wellbeing will offer tips for farmers and growers in a series of free online lunchtime talks.

Isolation and the sometimes stressful nature of agriculture, with severe weather and volatile trading conditions out of their control, puts pressure on rural families.

“The added restrictions, health risks and supply chain issues of COVID-19 have added another significant layer to that stress burden,” Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

That’s why Feds, along with the Dairy Women’s Network and DairyNZ, were delighted when a bid for funding from Worksafe’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund was successful. . .

Trev puts data squarely in the hands of the farmer with API :

Trev is excited to announce the release of its API, for the first time putting operational data squarely in the hands of the farmer.

The API development has been designed for farmers to build and control their Trev data, enabling Trev customers to automate data sharing within their own systems or to permission data to be shared with approved industry partners.

Trev customers have always enjoyed the benefit of building their own datasets and extracting insights directly from the Trev platform. This new API means farmers can now automatically transfer data to other platforms and services internally and externally, reducing their data burden.

Data can be taken directly from Trev’s platform and plugged into a farming business’ own internal systems and processes. Or should a customer choose, Trev has the ability to send farmer permissioned data to approved industry partner integrations. . .

Dairy farm gets $150G state grant to better manage cow manure:

Mecox Bay Dairy, a multigeneration family farm established in 1875, was a dairy until the 1950s, then a commodity potato grower before returning to cows in 2003. The farm, a rural expanse surrounded by multimillion dollar Hamptons homes, raises cows for beef and cheese and is one of a handful of Long Island operations offering sought-after raw cow’s milk.

The money will help Mecox Bay manage the excrement from its 23 milk-producing Jersey cows, a small and docile breed known for its high-fat milk, and more easily turn their manure into fertilizer.

A 1,000-pound dairy cow produces about 80 pounds of waste per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unmanaged manure contributes nutrients, disease-causing microorganisms and oxygen-demanding organics into the environment, the agency said. . .

Restructuring system hurts services


Epidemiologists and politicians are telling us it’s when, not if, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will spread through New Zealand.

Although some are saying that Omicron is more contagious but less serious than other variants, there are still serious concerns that health services will be over run.

The government has been telling us from before the first lockdown nearly two years ago, that the rationale for lockdowns and other restrictions on what we can do and how we can do it has been to ensure that health services aren’t put under too much pressure.

Given that, it ought to have been working very hard to ensure that health services and the professionals that provide them had everything they needed to cope with a surge in patients.

Instead, they’ve poured millions of dollars into restructuring the sector:

In 2018 the DHBs settled on a collective agreement for nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants with the complete implementation of a ‘Care Capacity Demand Management’ programme – a set of tools to ensure there are enough staff on shift.

. . . National’s Health spokesperson Shane Reti received confirmation from a written Parliamentary question that only one DHB had met the target by the deadline six months ago.

“Leading up to coronavirus there was very slow progress.

“This was specifically to reduce some of the risks around nursing staff being overworked in DHBs,” he said.

Just Northland DHB has 100 percent implemented Care Capacity Demand Management by the cut off – five were close at more than 90 percent.

The two worst DHBs were Canterbury at 49 percent and Waikato at just 34 percent.

In the response, the health minister’s office stated Canterbury and Waikato were late adopters of the CCDM programme.

The Waikato DHB’s roll-out was then further delayed by the cyber attack last year.

Reti said now is not the time for expensive reforms of the health sector.

“When the sector is already struggling for workforce, struggling to keep up with demand, even before whatever Omicron may bring towards us, this is a terrible time to be restructuring the sector,” he said. . . 

Maternity is one of the areas under pressure, even without Covid-19:

The temporary closure of Queen Mary maternity services at Dunedin Hospital is further evidence of Andrew Little being prepared to sacrifice health services over bureaucracy for his precious health system restructuring, says National’s Health Spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.

“The Minister needs to explain ministerial answers showing $60M of maternity action plan funding being put aside for health system restructuring.

“That $60M was important for core maternity services not health system restructuring and would go a long way to address concerns around midwifery capacity and conditions.

“It’s no wonder the health system is burnt out after 5 years of a Labour Government yet some of this could have been recently avoided if the $500M and funding for 20 Ernst Young consultants in Wellington to empire build a restructured health system had instead been used to build ICU capacity and increase the health workforce.

Unfortunately Andrew Little is trying to use a Covid crisis to justify health restructuring over health services, form over function, and property over people. This has all been cruelly exposed at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin and midwifery at large who now join 100,000 delayed procedures and 30,000 people waiting more than 4 months to see a specialist as testament to Labour’s failing health system restructuring.”

DHBs are far from perfect but spending millions of dollars on creating a centralised system with a separate Maori organisation with veto powers over the whole organisation would be the wrong answer at the best of times.

Doing it during a pandemic when everyone involved ought to be concentrating on core services will solve none of the existing problems and create new ones.



Word of the day


Interdigitate– to interlock like the fingers of two clasped hands; an interlocking of things with fingerlike projections; the  interlocking of toothed or tongue-like processes.

Sowell says


Rural round-up


Obsolete regulations block using CRISPR to develop safer potatoes, healthier tomatoes and climate resistant crops – Catherine Regnault-Roger:

CRISPR technology is a major technological breakthrough compared to the genome modification technologies that preceded it; developed then published by Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna in the international journal Science in 2012.

They received for this discovery, in a record time (only eight years) the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020! This shows the importance of this innovation.

The European legislative framework… considers that GMO regulations must be applied to products obtained by CRISPR. This in fact amounts to preventing de facto its development in the EU because this regulation, which dates from 2001, has become obsolete due to the advances in scientific knowledge that have been made over the past 20 years.

The CRISPR technique has many agronomic applications… which will revolutionize the agriculture of tomorrow in terms of phytosanitary inputs and fertilizers. . . 

‘We know that fruit will go to waste’ – Shannon Thomson:

Staffing shortages continue to bite for Central Otago orchardists.

Ongoing border closures and nationwide low unemployment has caused Horticulture New Zealand to call on growers to “club together” to make the best use of their resources.

Summerfruit New Zealand chief executive Kate Hellstrom said it had been a tough two years for growers and the organisation was working with other horticulture product groups and government departments to attract and retain as many seasonal workers as possible.

“We know that fruit will go to waste, which will affect profitability and morale, as some growers only have about half the staff they’ve had in previous seasons,” she said. . .

The changing face of farming – Ken Geenty:

Onfarm diversification can bring both motivational and economic stimulation to the benefit of your farming operation. By Ken Geenty.

About half the total area of New Zealand is taken up with farming, forestry and housing. The other half is in native land cover and mountains. 

On the farmed area over the past two decades Statistics NZ says the total number of holdings has decreased from 70,000 to 50,000 with a 13% decrease in the area farmed to 13.5 million hectares. About 13% of our population lives on farms. 

It seems a similar trend is happening world-wide. The United Nations predicts internationally an additional 3.3 million hectares of prime agricultural land will be taken up by urbanisation between 2000 and 2030. More corporate ownership, vertically and horizontally integrated to own the whole food system, will see a decline in family farms and rural communities. . . 

Shearing ‘in the blood’ of family at heart of Southland event – Evan Harding:

Patsy Shirley watches on as the shearers power into their work at a southern woolshed on Friday.

The Northern Southland Community Shears event is on, and Shirley is in her element.

She has been a key organiser of the event for more than 20 years, since being instrumental along with her family in moving it from Mossburn to Lumsden when it was about to fold.

More than seven national shearing and woolhandling titles are on the line at the farm venue near Five Rivers. . . 

Taranaki Soft Core – Jackie Harrigan:

Farming on the high-rainfall slopes of Mount Taranaki brings its challenges to a project to boost efficiency and reduce emissions. By Jackie Harrigan. Photos: Ross Nolly.

Donna and Phillip Cram have undergone their own quiet step change project over the last few years, quietly working away at increasing the efficiency of their farming operation.

“More production from fewer cows is our aim for reducing emissions as part of the sustainability of our farm business for the future.”

Wylam Dene Farms at Auroa is home to Donna, an accountant by trade, and Phil, a diesel mechanic from the United Kingdom. They met in the local Oeo pub and she encouraged Phil into the industry. . .

Why is price-fixing a crime for bread, but not for dairy? – Colby Cosh: *

A distinctly Canadian variety of brain damage was on full display over the holidays. Last week, as you may have read in the Toronto Sun, an Ontario judge approved a class action lawsuit against Canadian grocery companies that have already confessed to being involved in a conspiracy to fix retail prices for sandwich bread.

A few other grocers who have never admitted to any wrongdoing have been thrown in as parties. The defendants include the Loblaws grocery chain, which already handed out $25 gift cards to Canadian consumers after confessing its price-fixing to the Competition Bureau.

This story did not make much impact, and it is not so hard to understand why. Does shopping for bread stress you out particularly? Is your budget thunderstruck by the burden? Me, I don’t even buy much old-fashioned packaged sandwich bread anymore. When I was a kid the choices in the grocery stores were basically “white” and “brown,” but in my lifetime I’ve seen most grocery stores acquire pretty terrific bakeries.

This story did not make much impact, and it is not so hard to understand why. Does shopping for bread stress you out particularly? Is your budget thunderstruck by the burden? Me, I don’t even buy much old-fashioned packaged sandwich bread anymore. When I was a kid the choices in the grocery stores were basically “white” and “brown,” but in my lifetime I’ve seen most grocery stores acquire pretty terrific bakeries. . . 

* Hat tip: Offsetting Behaviour

Black Heels and Tractor Wheels – Emily Welch


Black Heels and Tractor Wheels Podcasts are a Rural Women NZ initiative in which they share stories from a range of women around New Zealand.

Common courtesy no longer common


The man in front of me at the supermarket checkout had a scarf loosely round his lower face and was ranting at the woman serving him about the requirement to wear a mask.

She responded with commendable restraint, he continued to rant, paid for his groceries and stalked out, still ranting.

I congratulated her on her response. She replied that the man’s ranting was mild compared with some of the behaviour she’d had to face.

Media reports back that up with stories workers in a variety of customer-facing roles having to deal with verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse from people who either don’t know, or don’t care that the people serving them don’t make the rules and even if they’d did, abuse is inappropriate.

I share the frustration people have about wearing masks. They’re uncomfortable  enough when the weather is cool, far worse when it’s hot. I also hate the way it’s hard to read people’s faces when masked and harder to recognise people I know.

But customers have to wear them only when in shops, the staff have to wear them all day.

And whether or not you think masks have a role to play in protecting the wearer, and others, from  Covid-19, the requirement to wear them is not the rule of people serving us in shops.

Common courtesy should stop people from taking their frustration out on shop staff, and probably would have in the past, but courtesy is no longer so common.

Please, thank you and excuse me are absent from many people’s vocabularies. Holding doors for people with walking sticks, prams or wheel chairs isn’t’ second nature to many; and other aspects of good manners and consideration for others that used to be normal behaviour, appear to be foreign concepts to them.

And  far too often doing as you would be done by has been replaced by doing what you feel like, with no heed of the impact it would have on other people.


Word of the day


Abnegate – renounce or reject something desired or valuable, to renounce or surrender a right or privilege; to deny oneself something valuable, cherished, or desired;

Milne muses


When I Am Among the Trees


by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Hat tip: The Marginalian

Maya muses


Sunday soapbox


Sunday’s soapbox is yours to use as you will – within the bounds of decency and absence of defamation. You’re welcome to look back or forward, discuss issues of the moment, to pontificate, ponder or point us to something of interest, to educate, elucidate or entertain, amuse, bemuse or simply muse but not to abuse.

Arrogance really comes from insecurity. And in the end our feeling that we are bigger than others is really the flip side of our feeling that we are smaller than others. – Desmond Tutu

Undersea volcano eruption


A tsunami warning has been issued for Tonga following an undersea volcano eruption.

Weather Watch puts the size of the eruption into perspective with inforgraphics here.

Word of the day


Rupestrine – appearing, growing or living on or among rocks.

Sowell says


Climate change realism and alarmism


Is the alarmism about climate change justified?

Bjorn Lomborg and David Wallace-Wells debate the issues:

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