Is it time to move on from Gypsy Day?

"Gypsy Day" is approaching for many New Zealand's dairy farmers.
Shaun Yeo

"Gypsy Day" is approaching for many New Zealand's dairy farmers.

For many in the dairy industry June 1 means one thing - time to move.

As the new season starts around the country, thousands of sharemilkers pack their cows into stock trucks and move equipment and families to new farms. It is a familiar sight which sums up the traditional path of progression in New Zealand's dairy industry.

Gypsy Day is entrenched in dairy farming culture but discussion has started within the industry about whether there are less disruptive ways to move farms.

Recently, more awareness of the disruption the move can have on families, small rural communities and schools has led to discussion in the industry about whether there is another way. The discussion stemmed from a workshop two years ago involving people from different sectors of the industry, which focused on improving the reputation and experience of working in dairying. Getting away from the traditional Gypsy Day was one of the issues explored. There was agreement that Gypsy Day was incredibly disruptive for rural communities and schools. Secondly it has a fairly negative impact in terms of stock movement for locals.

We wondered whether the emphasis on change every June 1 causes unnecessary uncertainty in farming relationships. It's about trying to get the balance right between progression which is a good thing, and continuity in the industry in terms of making sure that people stay long enough to really stick with the farm system, understand the particular farm they are on and have it really humming, which is really a three-year plus experience.

When effective employment relationships are operating, you don't want to have the expectation of Gypsy Day bringing that to an end. If things are going great then focus on the things that will make it go better. Don't stop the whole thing because there is this kind of industry expectation that on Gypsy Day it's time to move.

Farmers will never get away from the physical reality of having to move stock and equipment on the day itself, but phasing a family's move to better suit children and the communities they move into might help.

I think it is important for everyone involved to set out understandings from the beginning. You've got to set clear expectations in a contract so there are no surprises. It's not like this could ever be a centrally planned thing in the industry. This is more about a negotiation between the parties and providing options for people.

It's about taking more of the family and community impact into account and what works for everyone. The industry is now discussing options to better support progression and communities during times of significant change like Gypsy Day.

While June 1 will always be with us, good planning leading up to this date and effective communication surrounding the move is crucial to minimising stress and disruption to families and communities.

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* Mark Paine is DairyNZ's strategy and investment leader for people and business.

 - Waikato Times

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