Moving to a dairy farm – quite the

conversation starter

28 May 2020

Photo: Dr Tim Mackle, DairyNZ Chief Executive

By Dr Tim Mackle, Chief Executive, DairyNZ.

Starting a conversation with someone you don’t know – and who doesn’t know you – can be a bit awkward. Someone has to make the first move if you’re to get acquainted.

Often, once the conversation is underway and you learn a bit about what makes each other tick, you’ll find common ground and mutual interests.

In the weeks and months ahead, this is just what many farmers and newly unemployed Kiwis, many living in town, will be doing. They’ll be taking a chance to learn and understand more about each other – figuring out whether they want to keep chatting.

They’ll be talking about the great New Zealand countryside where thousands of job vacancies wait – jobs helping produce the food that nourishes us, and jobs supporting those food producers.

In dairy farming alone there are at least 1,000 jobs available right now. There are jobs throughout the country with most of the vacancies in Waikato, dairy’s heartland, as well as in Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

Most jobs are in regions that are not so far flung, in fact many are located within a ready drive of a town or city, and were home to thriving tourism and hospitality businesses, until COVID-19 arrived.

So, we know that most conversations between strangers start with one party taking the initiative – showing a bit of imagination and gumption. On this basis, a new Go Dairy campaign is taking the first step by connecting people who are looking for work with farmers who’re looking for staff.

This Go Dairy career changer campaign recognises that for meaningful conversation there needs to be understanding between the farmers and the people who want a secure job.

While dairy is ever-present in the daily lives of many Kiwis, be it the froth on a steaming flat white, cheese on a cracker or a lick of ice cream, I suggest that the dairy sector is not actually as familiar for many people as it should be.

Dairy has long been the engine room of the New Zealand economy and will continue to be as consumers here at home and around the world seek naturally produced, highly nutritious – and tasty – foods.

In this financial year ending on June 30, dairy is forecast to earn New Zealand $19.2 billion in export revenues.

This translates to an estimated total of $43 billion in economic activity as a result of dairying being strongly intertwined with the rest of our economy through jobs, direct and indirect, and through the purchase of goods and services, both in the farming and non-farming sectors.

Prior to COVID-19, the tourism and hospitality sectors performed similarly – and we know and hope they will one day be in a position to regain that strength.

On the world stage, our dairy farmers are regarded as the best for pasture-based farming, as well as their care for animals and their land. While dairy in New Zealand is largely free-range, it’s also underpinned by technology and data.

Dairy also offers the highest average wages paid in the primary sectors. And, like most sectors, the majority of dairy farm employers are good bosses too.

To use corporate jargon, dairy is a genuine value proposition – for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

Crucial in the Go Dairy conversation between dairy farm employers and career changers is a win-win – that new farm staff are happy and fulfilled in their new lifestyle and jobs, and farm employers have talented people working for them.

Yes, new entrants will start off in the more junior roles on a dairy farm. But there’s the specially designed introduction to dairy farming programme, Go Dairy, to help establish skills and ongoing opportunities to quickly progress.

Both parties in the farming jobs conversation will also be pleased that many skills the new recruits bring from former roles are readily transferrable and valued on dairy farms.

While life on a farm might at first appear to be worlds away from delivering an amazing tourism or food experience, the people who do well on a dairy farm are those who are motivated and care, are kind and want to do their best – and have a few laughs along the way.

Be assured though, none of us in the dairy sector are about to sugar-coat what working on a dairy farm is all about. Farming is about being smart and diligent, about hard work and getting up early, working outside in weather that is sometimes cold and wet, or hot and dry, and dealing with the mud and muck.

New Zealand farms with nature and the environment. We’re well recognised for our natural approaches. However, the flip side is that our farmers and their staff must ride the storms, or the droughts, thrown at them.

Likewise, farm bosses must weather the ebbs and flows of the global markets that have an impact on what they get paid for the milk produced.

A farm business, any business, must have access to talented people to be successful. About 34,000 Kiwis already work on dairy farms – and about 60 percent are women, who’re involved in every aspect from start-out positions through to farming partnerships.

Dairy farming’s reliance in recent years on migrant staff has been partly driven by record levels of low unemployment – the downside being simply not enough New Zealanders to go around.

Therefore, dairy farm employers, like businesses in other sectors, have filled vacancies with people from overseas, working with Immigration New Zealand to obtain the appropriate visas for them to do so.

Migrant staff are valued by a range of employers and, equally, they and their families are valued by the communities they live and work in.

Be they recently unemployed, or simply looking for a new path, anyone seeking to change careers and work on a dairy farm can expect a positive reception.

And their conversation starter with family and friend who are surprised by their move to the country could well be that they’re joining a sector that’s solid, respected, and responsible – and where they can settle in for a long, rewarding career.

For further details visit  


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