Dairy farmers becoming more 'hands on' as finances tighten
Dairy farms are restructuring their workforces and some Southland farm owners are heading back into the milking sheds themselves as the dairy downturn continues to bite.
Federated Farmers Southland president Allan Baird said some dairy farm owners were stepping back in and taking more hands on roles on the farm and demand for labour was likely to decline.
"In some instances before the farmer has been absent from the dairy shed, and those owners are coming back in."
Fonterra's latest forecast dairy payout of $3.90 per kg of milk solids was well below the break even point for many farmers.
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Recent changes to immigration laws, which restrict the employment of migrant workers into some farm positions, was also impacting, he said.
"Over time I think there will be less roles available for labour in the dairy industry."
He said it was a reasonable assumption that migrant employment opportunities would be affected.
"Those coming [to New Zealand's dairy industry] will realise the roles will be less abundant."
Baird believed core milking positions would remain secure.
Dairy NZ regional team leader Southland and South Otago Richard Kyte said while farm owners were taking on more of the workload themselves, there was still demand for labour.
"We are seeing more farmers becoming more hands-on, but there's still a high demand for staff and especially migrants.
"We don't want to be losing migrant labour as an industry and we're quite heavily invested in them."
Rural Support Trust rural support co-ordinator Lindsay Wright said employment would be affected and farms would re-structure accordingly.
"I think you've got to look at the bigger picture. The downturn is going to affect a lot of people in the industry."
Employees of all kinds would be impacted, he said.
"If there are farmers looking to restructure their staffing levels then they [migrants] will be equally a part of the mix."
Southland Multicultural Council chairperson Thambi Mabunda said the downturn was a concern for migrants.
"That is a worry because there are migrants who come here just to work, and if there's nothing for them then that's a concern."
Mabunda said changing labour demand would affect all employees across the dairy industry and not just migrants.
"Some of the [farms] have been living in a struggle now for a while, and it won't have an impact on migrant workers over any other workers on the farm."