Farming not an occupation for unskilled labourers

JAMES HOUGTON
Last updated 08:05 18/06/2013

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OPINION: I find it disappointing that Work and Income New Zealand persists in using the agriculture and horticulture sectors as a dumping ground for unskilled labour.

I see it is tempting to try to match unemployed people with what is perceived as low-skill positions, but in reality all farming requires a willingness to work in all weather, for long hours.

Perhaps we need to advertise it as being like a career in the military, without the possibility of being sent to a war zone. Farming requires people to be able to take on new ideas quickly and adapt to whatever situation is being thrown at them.

It is not a job for those who party all night and sleep all day, or who only want to work when they feel like it.

When a herd of 250 cows depends on you to get them milked, fed and watered and there are contracts to honour about getting milk to the dairy company, you cannot just hit "snooze" and roll over. Farming of any sort is a challenging but rewarding career.

The Federated Farmers and Rabobank Farm Employee Remuneration Report 2013 shows farm workers' average salary is above the national average and there are exciting career prospects for those who are committed.

However, from what I have seen and heard for some time, Winz does not seem to take any of this into account when recommending people for jobs.

Those with a bit of drive are sent off elsewhere while case managers send farmers long-term no-hopers.

A bit of news last week showed that no matter how successful you have been in business, farming may still not be the right career choice.

Former Livestock Improvement Corporation chief executive Mark Dewdney seems to have changed his mind about becoming a hands-on dairy farmer, taking on the chief executive role at PGG Wrightson instead.

Perhaps the drought soured Dewdney's dairy dream which he had announced in December.

He will be very familiar with his new business. Dewdney was at LIC when the co-operative provided a $10 million loan extension to Agria which helped the Chinese seed giant buy a 50.1 per cent stake in Wrightsons in 2011.

Last week, of course, was Waikato's annual celebration of everything in agriculture with the New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek.

Once again it was a hugely successful event - possibly the best ever - and it was great so many people visited us at the stall which FMG kindly shared with Federated Farmers.

It was a great opportunity to chat with farmers and we are likely to be back next year.

It was also good to see the Federated Farmers National Board members come to Waikato for their mid-year meeting last week. It gave them a great opportunity to also visit the Fieldays and have a chat with members.

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I fear, however, this year's increase in ticket prices to $25 for an adult gate pass and $15 for children might make it much less family-friendly in the future. It would be a shame if Fieldays was priced beyond the reach of young families.

They are the ones taking our industry forward, and for 44 years Fieldays has been a family affair.

Even Waikato-born celebrity chef Josh Emmet came to Fieldays as a kid. I know my children have experienced it and I hope, one day, their children will too.

The Meat Industry Excellence Group has published its mission statement and objectives this week after the farmer meetings held around the country.

It is calling for reform of the industry through a united processing and marketing structure controlled by suppliers.

The aim is to become the world's premium supplier of red meat.

This will take quite a bit of work and a new level of co-operation for the industry.

Road transport operators and the Government are working to minimise the risk for truck drivers, so do not be surprised if truckies stop picking up stock if your yards and loading banks are not up to scratch, making their workplace conditions unsatisfactory.

Before you get offended, remember if there is an accident, you might be at the back end of the law. Once again, it is the few at the bottom of the industry who are giving a bad reputation to the rest of us farmers.

Once again Federated Farmers is holding succession planning seminars, today in the Cambridge Cosmopolitan Club at Leamington from 4pm till 6pm.

This will be a good opportunity to help you develop thoughts, ideas and a plan for the future.

James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president.

- Waikato Times

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