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The worker shortage is putting pressure on dairy farmers as they enter one of the busiest times of the year, DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says.
Calving had already started in many places around New Zealand which put farmers in a "tough" situation, Mackle said.
"I'm deeply concerned about it," he told The Country's Jamie Mackay.
In June, the Government approved border class exceptions for an additional 200 dairy workers.
While this was "good news," it still wasn't enough, as DairyNZ estimated the sector needed between 2000 to 4000 staff, Mackle said.
"The difference between those numbers, by our estimates, is that 2000 is what you get if you add up all the job vacancies, and 4000 is what we think we should have if we were adequately staffed - and of course, we haven't been for the last few years to be frank."
It was also taking "a bit of time" to process the 200 dairy workers, because "ultimately DairyNZ has to take the applications for border class exemptions," Mackle said.
This week, the maximum duration of Essential Skills visas increased from 12 months to 24 months.
While this was another piece of good news it was still a drop in the ocean, Mackle said.
"It ain't about attracting [staff] and it's not filling that gap - it's just helping us hold on to the ones who are here."
The process was also expensive and Mackle was concerned that could put some potential workers off.
He estimated it could cost upwards of $10,000 to $15,000, which was "a fair bit" but admitted that spreading it over three years could make it "more attractive" to workers.
In the mean time, Mackle offered advice for dairy farmers under pressure during calving.
"One of the most important things is to look after yourself and your staff as best as you can," he said.
"That means getting together and really getting in that huddle and actually looking after each other and talking - communicating is a big thing."
Mackle acknowledged this could "go out the window" in stressful situations, but advised farmers to keep morale up amongst staff members.
"Having a really good work environment and celebrating some little milestones – I know this might sound like telling people to suck eggs - but it's actually really important stuff."