'It's not just about steering a wheel' – growing need for rural contractors in NZ and around world

More farmers are downing tools and bringing in specialists to do jobs with high-tech machinery.

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Rural contractors contributed $1.5 billion to GDP last year, but despite growth, business are struggling to fill positions. Source: 1 NEWS

Rural contractors contributed $1.5 billion dollars to GDP last year, but despite that growth, businesses are struggling to fill positions.

Golden Bay contractor James Crawford runs a multi-machined business servicing 60 farms. He and his staff operate expensive machines to do silage, baleage, groundwork and planting.

“It's not just about steering a wheel,” he explains.

“You need specialist operators to drive the gear. The general farmer doesn’t have that”.

Rural contracting now makes up around one per cent of the country’s total workforce, but a large portion of it is seasonal work.

“So we can't take people on and train them up because at the end of a season there is no work for them,” says Rural Contractors New Zealand chief executive Roger Parton.

Last year Mr Crawford advertised around the country but only received one response back.

“And that applicant wasn't suitable because they didn't want to move from Motueka to Golden Bay”.

He's had to hire from overseas, where the same shortages are being felt.

Farm & Forestry Contractors Ireland chief executive Michael Moroney told 1 NEWS it’s been difficult “across Europe”.

“For some reason, operating modern farm equipment isn't as popular as it was in the past”.

But he’s hoping there can be a win-win for both hemispheres. The Irish contractors are in talks with its country’s government about a visa specifically for workers from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

“The technology on the farms is similar, we're operating the same tractors in quite similar conditions,” he explains.

It’s hoped the opportunity will encourage more young people to train in machinery operating and follow the work around the world.

Meanwhile, decisions on a new employer-assisted visa system in New Zealand are due in the coming months.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway told 1 NEWS the proposals put out for consultation did not specifically address seasonal work arrangements.

However, the changes are designed to “improve the process for hiring migrants in sectors and regions that are experiencing genuine skills shortages”.

“Seasonal employers would be able to recruit migrant workers, provided that they can demonstrate that there is a shortage of local workers for these jobs, the salary offered is sufficiently high, or the occupation skills are on a shortage list”.

For now, New Zealand contractors are counting on the 150 workers from Ireland, England, Canada and Australia due to arrive next season under a current immigration agreement.