Life on the farm: high pay, low costs

South Otago dairy farmer Stephen Korteweg has seen a swing towards farming among urban workers who want a better lifestyle. Photo / Supplied
South Otago dairy farmer Stephen Korteweg has seen a swing towards farming among urban workers who want a better lifestyle. Photo / Supplied

The average farming wage is higher than for the country as a whole and living costs in rural areas are lower - yet many farms are struggling to find good workers, Federated Farmers says.

The average farm worker is now earning $5500 a year more than the national average wage and salary, according to a Federated Farmers/Rabobank survey, and pay levels for most pastoral farm positions have continued to increase.

"Our 2013 survey showed our workers earned an average salary of $46,246. This actually increases to $49,159 when the value of non-wage benefits is taken into account," said the federation's employment spokeswoman, Katie Milne.

This compared favourably with the national average wage for people in paid employment, which was $40,716 in the June 2012 quarter.

"When you consider living costs in many rural areas tend to be lower than in urban areas, it is an eye-opener," Ms Milne said.

"Yet despite relatively high unemployment nationally, farmers are finding it difficult to recruit skilled and motivated staff."

However, she conceded the current drought was expected to hold back growth in farm wages.

"I need to point out our survey was in the field in late 2012 and before the impact of the 2012/13 drought really hit home," Ms Milne said.

South Otago dairy farmer Stephen Korteweg said he had a few fulltime workers and casual staff working on his two farms.

He was not struggling to find workers, but acknowledged that farmers were competitive when it came to employing the best workers as there was a somewhat small pool.

"Paying them slightly more - if that attracts people to our industry, then that's well and good.

"Generally speaking, the cost of living is going up and other people are competing for good staff and if we want to get good staff, we don't want to be paying them any less than any of the other industries are."

Mr Korteweg said he had seen more urban workers and young people choosing to work on the farm.

"They can live on the farm and don't have to travel to work and having to sit in traffic for hours."

He said some people just wanted to get away from the stresses of life.

The 2013 Federated Farmers/Rabobank survey covered more than 3900 positions involving the input of 1194 farm employers, Ms Milne said.

It found a dairy herd manager could expect to earn $56,061 a year, a sheep and beef farm manager $66,740 and a dairy farm manager $70,336.


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