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A senior Waikato farm adviser reports his clients are actively looking for positive leadership and practical ideas from Wellington on the new road to climate sustainability, and notice how lacking it is at present

A senior Waikato farm adviser reports his clients are actively looking for positive leadership and practical ideas from Wellington on the new road to climate sustainability, and notice how lacking it is at present

By Angus Kebbell

Today I am talking to Ken Bartlett, a senior Farmwise consultant with LIC in the Waikato.

Ken has been working as a full-time consultant for more than 30 years and has deep and extensive dairy farming knowledge, interacting with many on-farm dairy professionals in this key dairy region, essentially to improve long-term business sustainability.

He reports that his farmer clients are currently very positive, boosted by good weather and feed conditions, along with the very upbeat signals from both the GDT dairy auction and the rising payout forecasts from the dairy companies.

The focus now on-farm is to set up herd condition scores for the next season, a process that can take up to 100 days to see meaningful improvement.

 

Bartlett says is clients need more and clearer signals about the practical things they should be doing, from those who are changing the regulatory landscape. They want to know what they are expected to change to, rather than just what they need to change from. There is a strong need to communicate exemplars of what works in this new vision. It is important these critics lead with positive examples, not just banging on about the negatives.

Specifically, there are expectations that the Minister of Agriculture, Damien O'Connor, should be more visible in this leadership effort. He needs to back up the Prime Minister and her acknowledgment that New Zealand's dairy industry is important for our economy, and that we couldn't have made it through COVID without it. Recent throwaway lines about reductions in livestock numbers were hardly helpful he says. A more active, specific engagement is the leadership required.

More practically on the farm, Bartlett points to the problem of staffing and hiring. He points out pay levels are not really the issue ("salaries are good") but it is the hours involved that makes hiring hard. New arrangements are needed even if what those are, isn't currently obvious. He points out once-a-day milking, an anathema idea ten years ago, is now mainstream and helps this situation.

To get the full story listen to the podcast above.


Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.

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14 Comments

I'll repost this from another thread re wages.
Farmsource Jobs.
Job ID: 3366094458
$60,000 total wage package 60 hrs/wk
3120 hrs per year
60,000/3120= $19.23/hr

I'll join grumpy.
The farm examples I know flag 60 hours per week..... that's over peak times such as calving and mating. They cut back markedly at the routine periods and over the 3 months when the cows are dry.
There are checks in the system if the farm is employing immigrant labour - Ministry of Immigration will not approve visas unless employer provides evidence of above minimum wage remuneration.

I have Dairy Ag clients that have extensive time sheet analysis across multiple years, 2050- 2100 hours is the norm the odd exception gets 2200 hours

Redcows
Not sure on what the actual add says but I have to assume youve done the calculation to arrive at the stated the 3120 hours/year? If so, your very wrong as staff member on wages has to take holidays (stat & personal) and are paid for these, and legally we cant pay under the minimum wage. The swings and round abouts of hours worked per week change throughout the season.

Sorry grumpy but swings and and roundabouts have long since died as an excuse for not paying.
Yes that is exactly what the ad said so that's exactly under minimum wage.
So many excuses for low wages and still the wonderment at why workers won't front up. This ad isn't even for a bottom rung worker, it's advertised as a herd manager though a pretty well skilled one, it shouldn't be within a mile of the minimum wage.

And we are the same re time sheet analysis (circa 2000 hours per year)- the issue is that a number of farms are still under financial pressure and havent (or cant) worked out how to move themselves out of the hole theyre in - no different to what we see in every other industry - you wont ever get 100% perfection and even less so in the rural sector thats controlled by the 24/7 needs of live animals e.g. hard to cut out supplementary feeding when you get a 1 in 50 year drought (how do you plan for that from a physical and financial point of view!).
As I said there are swings and roundabouts with each season......................

So what you are saying is that farmers want some one to tell them what to do, rather than working out for themselves what will work best for them?

What will they do when they are told? Complain loudly about the cost?

why can't they take on some leadership for themselves and do their own research, look for ideas and do it?

Related to Ken bartlett's comments, one of the reasons I see these 60 hr week jobs existing is the chase for total production via supplements. Often the owners don't see the problem, "it only takes half an hour to fed out", but that's a added extra 1/2 hr per day 31/2hrs a week and they add up fast. Plus it's only half an hour when everything goes according to plan.
So he's right, there is a need to cut the hours by doing things better.
And to add to your comment grumpy on the changing hours, years ago supplements were only fed out in narrow windows. Many now are hard out through the whole season with no letup on staff, and having talked to some they really do not like it so.

I agree with all your comments Redcows. You could also add in there for good measure irrigation. Some of the systems take a lot of time to move.
The comment on how well they are paid....its just the hours. Good grief. Up at 3am. Finish at 6pm. Yes there may be a couple of hours off in the middle of the day, but when basically it is now a factory job with little hope of climbing the ladder, whats the point?

And there lies the problem of an industry that doesnt/hasnt earned enough to look after its people by investing in quality production systems that are sustainable long term. Look overseas and see how the dairy systems work in most countries that know how important food is for their people. Robotic milking 24/7 is now very common offshore, cows are fully fed (all year round) and produce twice as much as NZ cows, governments have incentivised their farmers to change their systems to be more environmentally friendly. Staff work a normal 8 hour day (7.30am starts), live in their own homes in the local villages (so they have a life away from the farm), most the repetitive jobs are done by robots. Why cant we do this in NZ? Because we have limited scale, lack of capital, a poor return on capital as we get no govt. subsidies (so the down turns are very hard), and no financial incentive to change or systems (apart from a big stick), we think we are the best in the world but really are way behind the eight ball!
The current lift in Fonterra's payout may help us change our ways subject to positive direction from the current government. Without either of these the industry will continue to get smaller as will NZ Inc export income.

Do we really want to follow that european model though Grumpy? It rolls off the tongue...cows produce twice as much as NZ cows. Fully fed.
We have athletic healthy outdoor girls. They walk the walk. They go get the feed rather than using a fossil fueled tractor and its large attachments to bring it all to the cows.

Ken Bartlet knows all about screwing over farm staff, he is the reason I got out of the industry

That’s not in Kens nature, and of coarse you didn’t contribute to the situation that caused your exit.

I 100% contributed to my exit from the industry, I just got sick of dealing with people like Ken