Rural round-up

January 16, 2018

Women’s shearing record set in ‘epic’ sporting feat:

A nine-hour slog to set a new world shearing record is being described as an ‘epic sporting feat’.

Kerri-Jo Te Huia sheared 452 ewes in a Wairarapa woolshed yesterday to set a record that no-one has held before: that for the women’s nine-hour strongwool ewe category.

Champion shearer Jills Angus Burney watched Ms Te Huia make history and said she did an amazing job. . . 

Growers’ dilemma: Killing a crop to survive the dry:

After a drought-inducing start to summer, fruit and vegetable growers are pleading for more dams to avoid having to kill off their own crops.

Much of the country has been facing water restrictions after the early dry season, with even the usually rain-soaked West Coast having declared drought conditions.

Canterbury went weeks without rain in November and December, and Wellington was forced to use reserve water two months earlier than usual.

Otago settlement Glenorchy was the latest affected with Queenstown Lakes District Council announcing restrictions this morning, asking residents to switch off all irrigation and automatic watering systems. . .

What does the future hold for NZ”s largest farm? – Alexa Cook:

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is calling for public opinion about how New Zealand’s largest farm, Molesworth Station, should be managed.

The 180,000ha cattle station is owned by the government farmer Landcorp, which has a farming lease and grazing licence for the land.

A management plan for Molesworth was approved in 2013 with the intention of moving it from its traditional focus on farming to include more recreation and conservation activities.

The farming lease expires in two years, and Federated Farmers high country spokesperson Simon Williamson said it was crucial it remained a working station.

“It’s very important for that type of land that someone is maintaining it for the pests and weeds … and the public access side of it, if people get in trouble.” . . 

Close your farm borders to unwanted invaders – Katie Milne:

Here are some New Year resolutions for all of us who work the land: Treat your farm as a biosecurity fortress, with its defences tightened to shut out pest and disease threats.

Confirmation this week that the bacterial cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is present on a farm in the Ashburton area – bringing the number of infected properties around the nation to 14 – is the latest wake-up call.  All farms are at risk when it comes to pests and diseases.  Regarding Mycoplasma bovis, movement of infected animals is the main risk followed by animal to animal contact and transmission through milk and semen, but the disease can also be transferred directly on equipment such calving and AI equipment.

MPI staff work hard to knock out biosecurity threats at our airports and ports but they’re just the first line of defence.  You’re the fullback.  You need a game plan to repel weeds, bacteria and other harmful substances that would hurt your livelihood.

Now for those resolutions. . . 

Feds’ Hoggard urges farmers to pay backpackers regular rates – Paul McBeth:

(BusinessDesk) – Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard says farmers should pay backpackers market rates if they want to keep a handy pool of casual labour and avoid volunteer workers.

The Employment Relations Authority ruled an organic farm near Christchurch breached worker rights by paying them $120 a week plus providing food and lodging irrespective of the hours worked, and claiming they were volunteers after a Labour Inspectorate investigation. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said in a statement that thousands of people had been exploited at the farm, working up to 40 hours a week and often as hired out labour at a profit for Robinwood Farms director and shareholder Julia Osselton. . . 

Canada’s Public Sector Pension Board gets OIO approval to buy $17.7M dairy farm and block – Rebecca Howard:

(BusinessDesk) – Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board, or PSP Investments, got a green light to buy a medium-sized dairy farm and a neighbouring dairy support block in Canterbury for $17.7 million just ahead of tougher requirements on land sales to foreign buyers.

Ramsay Dairy Farm, which is indirectly owned by PSP Investments, was granted consent to buy 335.2 hectares of land and 77.2 hectares of land in Hororata, Canterbury by the Overseas Investment Office.

According to the OIO, the properties will be amalgamated to create a larger dairy farm. “The applicant proposes to convert some of the dairy support land to create a larger milking platform, and to support increasing the total number of cows by approximately 400 cows,” it said in a summary of the decision.. . .

Butter prices drop almost 5 percent in December:

Butter, chocolate bars, and wholemeal bread prices all fell in December, Stats NZ said today. Tomatoes and nectarines were also cheaper, but avocado prices remain almost twice as expensive as they were a year ago.

After four successive monthly rises, butter prices dropped 4.9 percent in December 2017 to an average of $5.46 for the cheapest available 500g block. This compared with the previous month when they hit a record high of $5.74. Butter prices had been falling at international dairy auctions since October. . . 

MPI aims to wrap up PGP review by end of April – Rebecca Howard:

(BusinessDesk) – The government’s review of the Primary Growth Partnership is underway, with the first phase due to be wrapped up by late January and the second by the end of April, with one programme partner providing feedback and ideas to date.

The research and development programme was launched in 2010 and, to date, government and industry have invested some $759 million in 22 programmes, with 16 still underway. In late November Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, who was critical of the programme while in opposition, called for a review, stating the new government needs to prioritise spending. . .

2018 Set To Be A Year Of Growth For Taratahi:

Taratahi’s efforts to attract new students has paid off with solid enrolments for 2018.

Taratahi upped its marketing and as a result, the definite enrolments for 2018 are looking great, says chief Executive Arthur Graves.

Arthur says the institutions taster courses have attracted large numbers of students.

“Taratahi and the wider primary industry have been promoting the job rich agricultural environments and extensive career pathways on offer and those campaigns are now yielding some great results. . . 


Where’s line between exchange and exploitation?

January 11, 2018

An organic farm has been found to have exploited thousands of travellers:

An organic farm near Christchurch was ruled to have breached the rights of workers it said were volunteers by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), following an Inspectorate investigation.

While no records were kept on site at Robinwood Farms Limited, the sole director and shareholder Julia Osselton said that she had over a thousand people travel through her business every year.

“Rather than enjoying a genuine volunteer experience, these people were exploited as free labour for the profit of Ms Osselton’s businesses,” says Labour Inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden.

“While Ms Osselton claimed that these workers were ‘WWOOFers’ engaged in a cultural and skill based exchange, and not employees, our investigation showed this was clearly not the case.

“It is not acceptable for businesses to attempt to evade their obligations by calling their workers volunteers and simply rewarding them with a bed and some food.

In theory there might be a line between an exchange and exploitation, but it would be difficult to draw it in practice.

If people are working they must be paid at least a minimum wage and if they’re getting accommodation and food, that is probably liable for fringe benefit tax.

“This practice is unfair to businesses that do follow the law and pay their employees, and takes advantage of the good nature of travellers who may not know their employment rights.”

Evidence uncovered on the farm in Tai Tapu showed the so-called ‘volunteers’ were working up to 40 hours per week, often as labour hired out to garden or cut firewood for Ms Osselton’s profit.

They were paid $120 per week in addition to food and accommodation, regardless of hours worked or what work they performed, with a visitors book on site showing many to be from overseas.

This account of the businesses was supported in witness accounts from a New Zealand woman and a Chinese man who both had worked for Robinwood Farms between November and December 2015.

Both said Ms Osselton did not supply them with employment agreements, minimum wage or annual leave for their work. The ERA ruled they were each owed over $2600 in arrears.

A witness statement from another worker provided to the ERA recalled ‘inhumane’ living conditions, where they slept in a small storage room under the stairs without proper ventilation or a heater.

The Inspectorate was also told that food was routinely collected from waste bins at supermarkets before being fed to workers at Robinwood Farms along with spoilt meat.

The ERA already ruled against one of Ms Osslelton’s businesses for her use of volunteers, with more than $20,000 paid to a Spanish man employed by Karamea Holiday Homes Limited.

While penalties to be paid by Robinwood Farms for the breaches are still being discussed, the company could be liable for up to $20,000 per employee per breach.

“Wherever a worker is being rewarded in a business at whatever level, the Labour Inspectorate’s starting position is that these people are employees and minimum employment standards apply.”

Anyone concerned about their employment situation, or the situation of someone they know, should call 0800 20 90 20 where they can report their concerns in a safe environment.

This clears up any doubts about whether WWOOFers are paid workers of not.

If they’re being rewarded for their work in any way they are employees and therefore covered by employment law which requires the payment of minimum wages and adherence to other conditions designed to prevent exploitation.


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