Southland farmers say dairying downturn affecting children video

The current milk payout forecast is $3.90 per kilogramme of milk solids, the lowest payout since the 2006-2007.
ROBYN EDIE/FAIRFAX NZ

The current milk payout forecast is $3.90 per kilogramme of milk solids, the lowest payout since the 2006-2007.

Southland farmers are concerned the dairying downturn is affecting their children with some parents struggling to meet additional school costs, while the schools themselves brace for significant roll changes at the end of the season.

However, the Ministry of Education says it can help with schools on a case-by-case basis and maintains that an area's dependence on dairying does not affect learning in that area.

Woodlands woman Linnet Burns, whose family are equity partners at a dairy farm, said the downturn had made things harder for several families in the area.

Robyn Edie/Fairfax NZ

Lochiel school principal Geoff Folster discusses challenges posed by the downturn in dairying.

"People don't have money like they had in the past," Burns, who has three children attending decile 10 Woodlands Park Full Primary Schoolsaid.

Tighter budgets meant donations and optional activities like school camps were harder to come up with money for, she said.

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"For school camps, $250 doesn't sound like a lot, but when you have no income, it is," she said.

"It is a strain."

With the current milk payout forecast at $3.90 per kg of milk-solids - the lowest since the 2006-2007 season, and well below the break-even mark of $5.30 per kg - some principals at high-decile rural Southland schools last week expressed concern over students moving away with their families as sharemilking contracts changed and funding challenges.

DairyNZ Southland/South Otago regional leader Richard Kyte​ said the current state of the dairy industry could especially impact staff working on dairy farms.

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"There may be more staff movement," he said.

"Farmers managing fewer staff could impact a number of kids in schools. If it's impacting children, it's affecting farmers' families and staff."

Kyte said there was a possibility more families could move when sharemilkers relocated themselves and their stock for the new season on or about June 1.

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said the decile system was not designed to address a school's ability to raise money.

"The decile system targets funding to schools to help them overcome any barriers to learning that students from lower socio-economic communities might face," she said.

"It is not designed to recognise the ability of a school community to raise funds. On average, decile funding accounts for around 11 per cent of a school's operational funding. Schools can ask to have their deciles reviewed at any time but the change must be specific and dramatic."

She also said an area's dependence on dairying did not affect learning.

"Teaching and learning occurs regardless of the general economic circumstances of a school community, whether rural or urban. We can provide support and guidance in specific areas should schools need it, but this is provided on a case-by-case basis."

Burns said she was helping organise a "positive winter event" for students and families.

She said the event was being planned as a wearable art evening, to be held in July.

"It'll be a bit of humour," she said.

"If we can get some positivity, that would be great."

 - Stuff

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