DairyNZ says the decision not to approve 500 skilled dairy workers to come into the country will put farmers under intense pressure, as they head into the new dairy season in June.
"We are disappointed with the news," DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle told The Country Sport Breakfast's Brian Kelly.
While DairyNZ understood it was a "challenging issue" for the Government to manage MIQ spaces and keep on top of Covid-19, there was also "a lot at stake" for the dairy industry, Mackle said.
"Farmers are under real pressure."
Mackle also understood the preference for seasonal workers to use the spaces, as it was "not always a job you can easily get Kiwis to just jump in and do".
"But at the same time we can't flick a switch in New Zealand and bring a whole lot of people into dairy either".
The dairy industry already lacked labour because of Covid-19 restrictions, and Mackle had heard of migrant workers moving to Canada and potentially, Australia.
"We don't know how big that is – I have to be really clear about that – but nonetheless it's something we're very mindful of."
As a result, keeping workers in the industry was DairyNZ's "number one goal" right now, Mackle said.
"There aren't any more [workers] coming in and we don't want any leaving either. So we've got a big focus on retention now ... retention of Kiwis who are working in dairy and retention of migrant workers."
A number of migrant workers had been in New Zealand long enough to qualify for residency - but they were also facing problems, Mackle said.
"I understand there's a bit of a hold up for some of them in getting that process – that is a risk we need to manage very carefully too."
It was important to have regular discussions with the Government to try and keep on top of these issues, Mackle said.
For example, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers had recently conducted a labour survey to present to the Government.
The survey found that 49 per cent of respondents said they were currently short staffed, and 58 per cent were experiencing increased stress levels.
The statistics had Mackle concerned for farmers' welfare.
"You can tough it out for a season... but if you carried on to another season there are risks ... around health and safety and around animal welfare."
"All these key issues we've got to manage. So we really want to keep talking about this and resolve the issue."
Keeping in contact with the Government was vital as Moving Day was fast approaching on June 1, Mackle said.
"We've partnered well with Government through a lot of Covid issues and it's a really important point to make – they've been very supportive of keeping business going - but this particular issue is a critical one we're now facing and we really need to resolve it."
It was important to remember that not only farmers benefitted from a migrant work force, it was also "special" for rural communities, Mackle said.
"They bring a lot of diversity and at the end of the day, New Zealanders... we all came here at some point or another and the dairy industry's very much like that."
"We've had waves of different groups come in over decades so it's part of our DNA in a way... that influx of different thinking, I think it's a special thing."
Migrant workers contributed to rural areas through schools, churches and community groups, "so we've also got to look after them," Mackle said.
DairyNZ was committed to getting more Kiwis into the industry as well, which was something it had to "keep working at," Mackle said.
"We've got to lift our game in some areas too. So that's a big message we're giving to farmers – make sure we're an attractive place for workers – for people to switch careers for example."
Hiring New Zealanders was not an easy fix for the industry, and DairyNZ continued to look at the big picture, Mackle said.
"It's not one simple thing. It's not a silver bullet. Certainly having more migrant workers available is not a silver bullet either."
"We've got to work at everything across the system."