Jobs aplenty, good pay on dairy farms

for COVID unemployed

8 May 2020

Thomas Orlowski tending to the milking on a Waikato dairy farm. He’s a keen farmer and encourages anyone looking for a new career to consider dairying – ‘it’s a wonderful lifestyle – you’re out in the fresh air surrounded by wonderful animals and people’. 


DairyNZ wants people who have lost jobs due to COVID-19 know there is plenty of work on dairy farms, especially in Waikato, Canterbury, Otago and Southland – and that they might well earn more than in their previous role.

With the national unemployment rate forecast to rise sharply due to COVID-19, DairyNZ is encouraging people to consider work on dairy farms in a new Go Dairy campaign that also includes entry level training to help their transition to farming.

Immediately, there are 1,000 jobs up for grabs on dairy farms, says DairyNZ’s chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.

“As the new season gets under way on June 1, even more positions are likely to become available,” says Dr Mackle. “For people who’re looking for work and like the idea of caring for animals and the environment, there are lots of jobs – and career progression opportunities.”

People interested in knowing more about working on dairy farms, where the jobs are and the introductory training can visit where they can register their interest.

While the Go Dairy career changers campaign, which is supported by Federated Farmers, aims to create awareness of the job opportunities, there is a big emphasis on ensuring new staff understand what is involved in farm life.

“We want a win-win situation – for new dairy farming employees to be happy and fulfilled in their new lifestyle and jobs, and for farm employers to have great talent working for them,” Dr Mackle says.

He adds that dairy also pays one of the highest average wages of all the primary sectors.

“For the most part, we’re anticipating interested people will be from the regions where there are big job losses in tourism and hospitality – and where there is dairying close by.

“An example is the dairy heartland of Waikato, which is also home to the Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves attractions, and the neighbouring Rotorua area, where there have been job losses, both direct and in the local support businesses.” 

Other dairy farming regions where there have been significant job losses include the South Island, in particular in Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

Map showing the regions with the majority of dairy farm vacancies.

Career pathway
Dr Mackle says while new entrants to dairy farming would start off in the more junior roles, they can anticipate a rewarding career pathway.

“Even though they are new to farming, many people already have skills that are readily transferrable and valued on dairy farms,” he says.

“This is because dairy farming these days is quite diverse and there are many roles, from doing the farm books, to working with machinery, working with animals, and managing staff, and making full use of technology along the way.

“Skills from previous work – and a determination to give their best – will see people new to farming quickly progress from a farm assistant position to herd manager and then other management roles, and even ownership later on.”

Dairy brings significant earnings, good nutrition – it’s tasty too
Dr Mackle adds that dairy is ever-present in the daily lives of most Kiwis, providing nutritious and tasty food, and it has also long been the engine room of the New Zealand economy.

Dairy is projected to earn the country $19.2 billion in export revenues in the financial year ending on June 30. This translates to an estimated total of $43 billion in economic activity as a result of dairy being strongly intertwined with the rest of the economy through jobs, direct and indirect, and through the purchase of goods and services, both in the farming and non-farming sectors.

He says Kiwi farmers are also regarded as the best in the world for pasture-based farming, as well as their care for animals and their land.

“Across the sector, they make good bosses too. They are well-supported by DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and others with employment advice and other guidance.

Current statistics show of the 48,000 people employed in the dairy sector, 34,000 are working on dairy farms – the remainder in processing and support operations.

Dr Mackle says opening the door to new people will also help fill the gap this coming season that farm employers have in the recent years of low unemployment filled with new migrant staff, who are now impacted by border restrictions.

He confirms DairyNZ is among those in the rural sector working with Government to ensure the 4,500 migrant staff already living in New Zealand and working in farm teams can have existing visas extended.

“Even with all the current migrant dairy staff being retained, there is still the shortfall of at least 1,000 employees for the new dairy season that starts in just three weeks,” says Dr Mackle.

“Indeed, ensuring farm employers can keep all their experienced staff, including these migrant staff, will assist them in training new recruits coming in from other sectors, and successfully settling them into their new farming lives.”

Key facts for Go Dairy career changers

Pay: The annual pay scale in dairy farming averages $42,000 for farm assistants starting out in farming careers, rising to $50,000-$55,000 for herd and assistant manager positions, and $70,000 upwards for farm managers.

Where are the jobs? Dairy farm jobs are available in all of the country’s major dairying regions, in particular Waikato, Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

Training: DairyNZ is finalising the details of the Go Dairy ‘farm ready’ course for career changers who are serious about a farming career. The course will provide information about life and work on a farm and teach the basics of animal handling and vehicle safety.

Once on farm, Go Dairy career changers will be supported on the job by the farm employer and colleagues. As many farm staff already do, they can choose to go on to learn more and obtain formal qualifications through courses provided by Primary ITOs, Dairy Training, regional polytechnics and other training providers.

To find out more: Visit Or dial 0800 4 DAIRYNZ (0800 4 324 7969).


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