Southland's battle to find skilled workers in the dairy industry continues, those close to the sector say.
DairyNZ Southland/South Otago regional leader Richard Kyte said there was still a very tight labour market in Southland, especially in the higher skill levels on the farm, such as herd manager and 2IC in particular.
''Farmers are not getting the number and quantity of staff through advertising. With the tougher immigration regulations, we are not seeing as many skilled dairy staff applying. We are still seeing higher numbers of career changers joining the industry, but probably not in the same numbers in the South.''
In an attempt to recruit more youth to the industry, DairyNZ had been involved in initiatives including the Southland Youth Futures programme, which encouraged students into the primary sector.
The industry group had also taken part in a Southland employment expo last year organised by the Ministry of Social Development to entice Cadbury workers into new careers after the Dunedin factory closed in March.
''At national level, we also have an ongoing Go Dairy programme which promotes dairy sector careers to students, career changers and parents and teachers who might encourage people into dairy,'' Mr Kyte said.
Last year, the National government announced a one-off pathway for residency for 4000 long-term temporary migrant workers and families living in the South Island.
The policy allows eligible migrants to be granted an initial Work to Residence temporary visa, which makes them eligible for residence in two more years provided they stay in the same industry and region.
This change had certainly made a difference to migrants in the South and their families who saw Southland as home, Mr Kyte said.
''It has been welcomed, not just in dairy, but across the region in schools, aged care and other sectors where these people have become valued members of the community.''
Other changes to immigration, including the introduction of remuneration bands to determine skill levels and the introduction of a maximum duration of three years for lower-skilled and lower-paid essential skills visa holders, had also had some impact on the industry, he said.
''There has been a slow tightening around supply of quality farm staff across the board, which we can see continuing, due to both the new immigration regulations and low unemployment levels.''
Due to the concerns raised by farmers about pending cuts to immigration, earlier this year Clutha-Southland MP and National associate spokesman for agriculture Hamish Walker took the unusual step of writing to the Prime Minister outlining the concerns of the community.
Mr Walker said he heard from farmers on a daily basis who couldn't find suitable staff to work on their farms.
''Often I hear the comment that if it wasn't for the migrant workers, some would struggle to operate their farms.''
''Labour campaigned to cut immigration numbers by 30,000 down from 72,000. This would have a crippling effort on rural committees, like Clutha-Southland, who rely heavily on migrant workers to milk our cows and undertake other important services in our community.''