Wages and compliance on the rise

Dry stock farmers’ salaries have grown strongly in the past year, according to Federated Farmers and Rabobank’s 2015-16 employee remuneration report.

Despite tough times and low inflation, most sheep, beef and grain farmers have provided higher average salaries.

Salaries in the dairy industry remained stable but there has been a small decrease in the value of extras farmers provide their staff, such as firewood and internet access, pushing the total value of their package down.

Federated Farmers dairy industry group chairman Andrew Hoggard said that could reflect the industry’s emphasis on ensuring that salaries matched staff skill levels and extras were not used to plug shortfalls.

The report also showed the message on compliance was getting through to dairy farmers, with the number of employment agreements and recorded hours on the rise.


New law aims to usher in safer workplaces but are farmers lifting their game?

New health and safety rules that come into force today will mean more people make it home safely at the end of the working day, say business and trade unions.

Health and safety rules
Photo: 123RF

They say the new rules, which come off the back of the Pike River mining tragedy, put a greater emphasis on safe working practices.

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said the Health and Safety Reform law should make a real difference to the lives of workers.

Public Service Association president Richard Wagstaff
Richard Wagstaff Photo: SUPPLIED

“There’s a lot of improvements in the Act and there’s a much greater awareness of health and safety in New Zealand.

“We think that it’s better for mining, but it’s better for the wider workplaces and there’s more Responsibility put on people in all levels of organisations to address health and safety.”

However, Mr Wagstaff said the new rules were not perfect.

“We’re concerned about small businesses of less than 20 people having weaker protections in the case of their inability to elect a workplace health and safety [representative], from our point of view there’s nothing magic about small businesses.”

David Kelly is the chief executive of the Master Builders Association and the chairman of the Construction Safety Council.

He said there was no denying the construction industry’s safety record was not flash when compared with countries like Australia, but that could now change.

“What does change is I think a much greater awareness and a push from the government agencies to make sure that people are aware and that they will enforce health and safety.

“One of the key things is making sure that your workers know what they are required to do and that they are competent in terms of their own knowledge and practice.”

Labour Party associate workplace safety spokesperson Sue Moroney said Labour largely supported the new rules – but she believed excluding agriculture as a high-risk sector was unforgivable.

Sue Moroney during caucus run 1.03.16
Sue Moroney Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

“We’re really disappointed that the most dangerous of our sectors that kills the most people every year, being agriculture, that they are not deemed to be a high-risk industry and this means that the full force of the protections under the health and safety laws are not available to that sector.”

In excluding agriculture Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse used accident data he had been warned by his own officials was highly misleading.

Under this, worm farms and mini-golf were deemed to be high risk industries, while dairy and beef farms were not.

While he later ditched that data, Mr Woodhouse continued to claim that on a proportional basis agriculture was not a high risk sector.

In 2015, there were 15 deaths per 100,000 workers in agriculture, compared with 1.4 deaths per 100,000 in non-agricultural workplaces – making agriculture proportionally 13 times more deadly.

But a farm safety consultant D’Arcy Palmer said the new law still put a lot more emphasis on the owners and directors of farms to ensure their farms were safe.

He said farmers, or the younger ones anyway, were lifting their game.

“I think it’s been a good thing – it’s made farmers aware of their responsibilities, directors certainly.

“In farming of course you have the older farmer as well and they are of the old ilk, they’re yesterday’s men [who say] ‘don’t tell me what to do on my farm, this is the way it’s been done’, but those attitudes are changing and the new generation is right on the case, they really are.”

The government was hoping the new law would lead to a 25 percent reduction in workplace deaths and injuries by 2020.

Agstaff team help collect for Red Puppy Appeal

Agstaff Operations Manager, Jim Henderson and his wife Tracy, were part of our team who collected for the Red Puppy Appeal for the Blind Foundation in Ashburton today.
The breeding and training of guide dogs simply wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of the public, which is why Red Puppy Appeal is so crucial.
Thank you to everyone who coordinated, collected and donated to the The Red Puppy Appeal!


The good buggers at Agstaff and The Mid Canterbury Rugby Union brought some of the mighty BNZ Crusaders to Ashburton once again. The event was held at the EA Networks Centre today and well attended by hundreds of eager young rugby fans.

A big thanks to BNZ Crusaders Michael Alaalatoa, Owen Franks, Jimmy Tupou and Joe Moody for making the event so special. Three lucky young rugby fans (aka ‘the bodyguards’) Bailey, Wynter and Reihana (above) won the unique chance to escort the four BNZ Crusaders into the stadium wearing their polos.

There was a great mix of skills and drills activities and on-court action with the players, along with a sausage sizzle and fantastic giveaways. Some prizes included tickets to a BNZ Crusaders home game later this month and the fortunate recipients went away smiling. A special thanks to the other BNZ Crusader partner sponsors who provided giveaways for the event, Hellers provided sausages for the BBQ and Couplands provided the bread, while Coca Cola supplied Powerade and bottles of Pump Water for the children.

The event also bought back the very popular players autograph session from 2015 and it was fantastic to see the players mingle with some potential Crusader players of the future.

Are you being mindful about how you advertise farm jobs?

Farmers do not help themselves by posting advertisements for staff that fuel some of the mistruths that exist within the industry, Chris Lewis says. PHOTO/Mark Taylor
OPINION: It can be tough finding and hiring good people these days.

From a farmers’ perspective you have to be mindful how you advertise jobs. If you don’t get it right you’re likely to further embed those misconceptions around farms, or worse still, hire the wrong person.

Essentially, it’s about highlighting why farming is an attractive career option and to show others that we are focused on changing the dynamics of how we employ and treat staff to reflect modern society.

Let’s look at some of mistruths. We often hear of long hours, no regular days off, little health and safety, high accident rates and low pay.

Then there’s the assumption you’ll have free housing, free supply of meat and it goes on.

I know most farmers will disagree with this, but they don’t help themselves by using advertisements that portray as much. Perhaps, they rush it, or they’ve always done it that way or just copied others.

Whatever your reason or excuse, please stop it. Federated Farmers advises you to be clear what the role entails, the hours involved and if accommodation is included.

I’m no lawyer or human resources specialist, but there’s no rocket science in attracting good employees that are smart, trustworthy and hard working.

For a start, think of the best possible way to promote your job and farming industry. Tell the story of your business and strategy, what the preferred applicant’s skills should be, their education and the qualifications you value.

Put together a job description with a salary, potential hours worked, a roster and state whether rent will be included or deducted out of the wage offered.

Housing is expensive these days and you should get a rent appraisal or find out what is a similar rate in your area. Renting in town varies depending on the neighbourhood and a $300,000 valued property will be at least $300-350 a week to rent and likely more.

Have a competitive salary in your package. If people want to rent your house, deduct the rent from their wage and have it in the agreement.

Meat and milk is bloody expensive to buy so don’t give it away. Place a value on it, annually it can be worth a significant amount.

You might also discover when working out the salary package that it’s a decent hourly rate, so expect plenty of interest because it’s likely to be more lucrative than town jobs. Never sell a farming job as a cheap job.

In your job description, make it brief on the ad, but attractive. The description can be requested and sent back to those who may make the cut.

It might encourage people to ask questions about your farm at the interview. This can help you understand their knowledge and whether you should proceed with their application.

Always research similar industry advertisements to yours, know the market, be cheeky and copy the good bits in your own words.

Before advertising, make sure you have the relevant agreements covering employment, drug and alcohol and health and safety.

All these can be ordered from Federated Farmers, while DairyNZ has job description templates and a roster builders program.

Employees if you are reading this, no text lingo, spellcheck everything, have an honest timeline of experience and education, and yes, look at your Facebook page and decide whether something is likely to offend as most businesses do check nowadays.

Be competitive if you are after the best job or applicant, don’t over inflate the job or skill, lies always come out.

For those hiring, be proud of your reputation and the industry. Always showcase your farm at its best, because ads are public and people can see it, especially those connected to our overseas markets.

Remember, farmers that show leadership and practise what they preach, will always get respect.

  • Chris Lewis is the president of Waikato Federated Farmers.


Hi-tech insights feature at high country field day

MEDIA RELEASE – 16 February 2016

Hi-tech insights feature at high country field day

Technological advances and the opportunities they present for lifting agriculture production and business performance will be a strong focus of the South Island Farmer of the Year winner’s field day at Omarama Station on Friday, 26 February.

Presented by the Lincoln University Foundation with hosts, 2015 joint winners Richard and Annabelle Subtil, the field day will offer a unique and inspirational insight into the operation of this multi-award winning station.

Owner Richard Subtil says he is particularly keen on the increasing role technology can play in the operation of primary businesses, especially how it can apply in the South Island high country to lift production, improve efficiency and increase profit.

“Data management systems, land management using drones, aerial soil assessment and new market and food production technologies will be a feature of the day,” he says. “There will be much for field day attendees to consider and apply to their own businesses.”

The growing need for a strong relationship between producer and consumer will also be a feature, with Dave Anderson CFO and COO from Icebreaker and Rob Hewett Chair of Silver Fern Farms discussing how consumer demands shape production back on the farm.

Lincoln University Foundation Chair Ben Todhunter says it is going to be a practical applications field day with much of the activity occurring in-field rather than via static presentations.

“Attendees will be able to drive through the station, stopping for pertinent presentations along the way,” Todhunter says. “The information will be relevant to some of the key issues in farming today, especially in the high country, and demonstrate how good technological solutions can make a real difference.”

In addition to the Subtils and their team, the field day guest list includes: Mark Ferguson, Production Science Manager at The New Zealand Merino Company talking about opportunities in fine wool after three years of evaluating Merinos in New Zealand;  Michael White, Technical Development Manager,  Ravensdown discussing aerial sensing for soil testing and computerised/GPS controlled fertiliser dispersal for the high country; and Brendan O’Connell, Head of Business Development, Tru-Test Group who’ll outline the potential future of food and farming given emerging technologies and new market conditions.

Additionally, there will be a presentation about high performance drones for multiple farm use, discussions on negotiation strategies and an opportunity for an interactive panel with speakers at the end of the day.

Bookings essential:

On-line: http://www.lincolnuniversityfoundation.org.nz/farmer-of-the-year-field-days/ 

Or RSVP to: Nicky Burgess E: nicola.burgess@lincoln.ac.nz // P: 03 423 0537 // C: 027 5858 417



Agriculture industry betting the farm on innovation to boost yields and profits

The farmers who succeed are the ones who are going to incorporate new technologies’

By Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press

With the drone’s camera aimed at himself, Dwight, Ill., farmer Matt Boucher demonstrates the maneuverabiliy of the craft at his farm. (Scott Anderson/The Daily Journal/Canadian Press)


The family farm is going high-tech.

From robotic milking machines to data-gathering drones, industry watchers say technology is making agriculture more precise and efficient as farmers push for increased profits and yields.

“There’s a whole confluence of technologies that are adding a lot of value on the farm quickly,” said Aki Georgacacos, co-founder of Calgary-based Avrio Capital.

The venture capital firm focuses on agriculture and food innovations, and Georgacacos says changes like fine-detailed mapping and sensors for everything from soil moisture to fuel use are just beginning.

“We’re not even scratching the surface,” he said, adding an older generation of farmers have been slow to adopt new techniques.

But that’s changing.

“Right now we’re at a bit of an inflection point, where we’ve moved beyond early adopters and we’re moving now into fast followers, and so we’re getting to a point where the rate at which some of this technology is accepted is accelerating.”

On Monday, Avrio Capital finished raising $110 million in late-stage venture capital that it plans to invest in the next wave of farm-tech companies.

The big data revolution

One of them is Fredericton, N.B.-based Resson Aerospace, which has developed drone-based crop monitoring to know when fields need to be sprayed or watered.

Another is Winnipeg-based Farmers Edge, which 10 years ago was based out of Wade Barnes’s basement in rural Manitoba, where he and co-founder Curtis MacKinnon were pushing to make local farms more efficient.

Barnes started introducing farmers to technology that allowed them to apply varying amounts of fertilizer on their fields depending on where it was most needed.

“That was quite revolutionary back in 2005,” Barnes said in an interview.

Food Farm Robotic Milking

A cow voluntarily gets milked by a robot at Lambert Farm in Graniteville, Vt. (Lisa Rathke/Associated Press)

Today, the company has evolved into what Barnes says is one of the biggest in the world working in farm data management, using cloud computing to crunch numbers from soil sensors, satellite imagery, weather stations and other inputs to make farms more efficient.

in January, Farmers Edge secured a $58-million investment from investors including Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co. and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

“The next big revolution in agriculture is big data,” said Barnes from southern Russia, where he was setting up another satellite office for the company now operating on four continents.

Already, he said, farmers are seeing 30 per cent increases in productivity by using the data available, and the technology is only getting more accessible. A system that five years ago would have cost $15 to $25 an acre now costs under $5, said Barnes.

More affordable than ever

Cheaper technology and advancements in productivity are more important than ever as pressure mounts on the world’s food systems, says Viacheslav Adamchuk, an associate professor in McGill University’s bioresource engineering department.

“We are not going to see more arable land; land is all allocated. The population is growing, the climate is changing,” he said.

Adamchuk’s research has focused on sensor technology in farming, which he says has come down dramatically in price in recent years while at the same time growing in precision.

He estimates that farmers can shave off at least 10 per cent — and upwards of 40 per cent — of their input costs on things like fertilizer, seeds and water thanks to global positioning systems and sensors that allow them to use those resources only where needed.

“You can maintain the same yield with less inputs,” said Adamchuk.

Food Farm Robotic Milking

Cows wait in line to be voluntarily milked by a robot. (Lisa Rathke/Associated Press)

Stan Blade, dean of the University of Alberta’s faculty of agricultural, life and environmental sciences, says innovation is key for the future of farming.

“The farmers who succeed are the ones who are going to incorporate new technologies,” he said.

“Auto-steered tractors, yield monitors on combines — I mean we’re all using those things now because it just makes us that much more efficient. They decrease labour, they make things more efficient, they make things safer, so it just presents a whole array of new opportunities for producers that are involved in generating these yields.”