Out of workers: James Cameron laments New Zealand’s worker shortage

Film director James Cameron says he and wife Suzy have been unable to expand their vegetable growing operation in the Wairarapa due to the labour shortage gripping the country.

Lately they have resorted to grazing dairy cattle on their farm, raising eyebrows in the local community given their outspoken criticism of animal agriculture and advocacy for plant-based protein foods.

The pair – who recently took up permanent residence in New Zealand – spoke to the Herald before the Kea World Class Awards in Auckland last week.

They own about 1500ha of land in South Wairarapa where they are developing a cropping and vegetable business, supplying their plant-based café and food store in Greytown and a market depot in Featherston.

Cameron told the Herald that plans to expand the farm business had stalled due to the labour shortage induced by Covid-19, closed borders and an inability to access foreign workers.

“Obviously there were labour issues that affected our ability to expand our vegetable operation. We grow organic, primarily brassicas. We are the largest supplier of organic brassicas in New Zealand … and we wanted to expand [but] weren’t able to so we are kind of in a pause on that.

“The operation is running well but we were hoping to expand it onto more of our land.”

In April RNZ reported the Camerons were grazing hundreds of dairy cattle on the farm, leading some locals to question that in light of their stance on animal farming.

Cameron said he was still focused on the environmental challenge.

“One of the things we are interested in doing with our capital investment and sustainability in farming is how do we create a transitional state that is lucrative for farmers to move into that are currently in agria or beef operations?

“And we haven’t made much headway in that right now but that’s a personal goal of ours.”

Suzy Cameron believes people can start adopting a plant-based diet even by dipping their toe in one meal a day.

“One of the things that is really excitingabout what New Zealand is doing, and I haven’t heard of any other countries doing it, is reducing animal agriculture stock units by 15 per cent by 2030 and coming up with alternatives for the farmers who are going to be getting out of beef and dairy for that reason. So, I think that alone is really exciting because animal agriculture is the second leading cause of greenhouse gases and climate change.”

James Cameron, whose films include Titanic and the Avatar and Terminator franchises, also lamented a shortage of skilled film crew in New Zealand right now.

He said the film sector was booming in New Zealand but was suffering a shortage of trained crew.

“There are more productions that could come to New Zealand than can. I’m talking about big international films.

“We can attract as many movies that are out there. The limitation is the number of crews that exist so we have to increase the number of crews and the number of people and we have to even out the curve. The way to do that is with a steady state of New Zealand based productions as well.

“But I can see the international film industry at large investing here, investing in infrastructure and training.”

The Camerons were honoured as “friends of New Zealand” at the Kea awards ceremony in Auckland last week.

The award recognises the significant contribution made to New Zealand by someone who is not born here.

OUT OF WORKERS: A Business Herald Series

• The tech sector’s new pain point

• Worse than Covid: Hospitality’s battle for staff
• Kate MacNamara: Immigration and the puzzle of New Zealand’s tight labour market

• ‘Ridiculous’ shortage of MIQ spaces for construction workers
• Covid-19 highlights labour shortage in seafood industry

• Horticulture has ‘wall of work coming’ and dwindling staff

• Tourism: 90,000 jobs lost last year- 80,000 vacancies now
• Economic fallout and the human toll
• Solutions: What should the Govt be doing, how firms are adapting

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