Rural round-up

April 9, 2020

COVID-19: Farming focused on playing its part:

A week into the COVID-19 lockdown, DairyNZ says dairy farmers are settling into life in lockdown but the sector’s focus remains on ensuring support for farms.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said the Government support for farming as an essential service has been positive to date and is helping ensure all farms can be kept ticking.

“DairyNZ is working closely with dairy farmers and agri-partners to ensure all farming families, staff and support services are safe, and that farmers have access to the equipment, services and people they need,” said Dr Mackle.

“We all share concerns about the health and economic effects COVID-19 will have on our families, communities and New Zealand, and farmers are working hard to minimise risks to keep their businesses running smoothly. . . 

Milking shed projects stymied by lockdown rules – Rod Oram:

Dairy farmers trying to get ready for the new season are striking lockdown problems, writes Rod Oram

A farmer in Northland has a problem: his milk processor had condemned his milking shed; a new one was under construction; work has stopped because the Government has yet to classify such projects as essential; and precious time is being lost before the new milking season starts in July.

This is a real example playing out now, says Justin Thompson, DeLaval’s vice president of sales and support in Oceania. The Swedish-based company, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of milking systems, is supplying equipment to the Northland project. But as soon as New Zealand went into Covid-19 lockdown, subcontractors packed up and left the site. . . 

Commodity prices continue to fall but offset by weakening dollar:

Commodity prices continue to fall as the impact of the Covid-19 virus continues to be felt on international markets, but the blow is being cushioned by a weaker New Zealand dollar.

The ANZ World Commodity Price index dropped 2.1 percent in March and has now fallen 8.3 percent in the past four months.

In local currency terms the index actually lifted 3.3 percent due to a sharp fall in the New Zealand dollar.

Dairy, meat and fibre, forestry and aluminium all fell, but horticulture remain unchanged. . .

Chair of Ballance Agri-Nutrients retires in September:

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Limited Chairman David Peacocke, is stepping down as a Director in September 2020 at the Annual Shareholders Meeting (ASM). Duncan Coull has been elected as the new Chair by the Board of Directors taking up the post after the ASM.

David a Waikato farmer and businessman has been a Ballance Director since 2005 and was elected as Chair in 2013.

“After 15 years, seven as Chair, this is a logical step in the Ballance board’s succession planning and I felt it was time to let someone else take up the challenge,” says David.

“Duncan is the right person to lead Ballance into our next phase , he brings a strong personal view that we need to work collaboratively as a sector to be future-ready.” . . 

Forestry industry preparing for back to work

Forest industry organisations are planning how to get back to work when restrictions on non-essential work are lifted for the industry.

Organisations, representing forest growers, transport, processing and contractors have set up a working group to develop risk assessment protocols in readiness for start-up of the industry sector.

The National Safety Director of the Forest Industry Safety Council, Fiona Ewing says the aim is to assure government that the sector will be able to comply with the epidemic management conditions of COVID-19. . . 

Update on 2020 Awards:

The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards final four regional winners and placegetters have been announced via Facebook Live video and were warmly received by entrants, winners, sponsors and supporters.

The New Zealand dairy industry is resilient, flexible and adaptable to change. The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards, adapting and leading with their response to the Covid19 crisis, can be seen as a reflection of the industry and all entrants.

Entrants, families, supporters and sponsors watched with excitement and anticipation in their bubbles. There were hundreds of live streams out numbering the usual attendance to the dinners. It was magical to see the live engagement and comments and likes floating up the screen during the announcements. . . 


Rural round-up

April 8, 2020

It’s okay to not be okay – Jamie Mackay:

 A recent personal tragedy has made The Country host Jamie Mackay reconsider his stance on mental health.

I’m ashamed to admit it, especially as there is a history of mental illness in my own family, but until relatively recently I was a bit blasé about mental health.

Back when my grandmother was a young mother under considerable stress raising six kids, she had what was at that time called ‘a breakdown’. She was sent off to a mental institution (as they were known then) three hour’s drive away.

We were often packed into the car when my father went to visit her, but we were never able to see her. She lived until I was 16 years of age, but I never met her. As a family we never talked about her, other than to acknowledge that she was institutionalised. . . 

Rural sector vital to recovery, despite confidence dip – David Anderson:

COVID-19 is negatively impacting New Zealand’s rural sector confidence.

The declining confidence comes as the country’s primary industries prepare to shoulder some of the heavy lifting for economic and social recovery, claims specialist rural bank Rabobank.

New Zealand chief executive Todd Charteris says the bank’s latest rural confidence survey shines a light on the psyche of farmers at a critical time for the nation.

“The food and agri sectors will be crucial in helping to rebuild the New Zealand economy and Rabobank continues to have a strong positive long-term view of the sector outlook,” he says.  . .

Fruit, wine industries respond to coronavirus with vintage Kiwi adaptability – Georgia-May Gilbertson:

Kiwis are stepping in to cover a shortage of backpackers and overseas seasonal workers in the fruit and wine industries.  

For the last few years the kiwifruit industry has experienced a labour shortage when it comes to harvest, but New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) president Nikki Johnson says covid-19 has changed that. 

“The way that our labour situation is laid out is that about 50 per cent are New Zealanders,  25 per cent are working holidays visa workers or backpackers, then 20 per cent are RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) workers,” Johnson said.  . . 

COVID-19: Growing interest in NZ sheepmeat in China – Peter Burke:

Chinese consumers are increasingly positive about New Zealand-produced beef, lamb and mutton in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a social media analysis by Beef + Lamb New Zealand. 

B+LNZ’s market development team says it is monitoring Chinese consumers’ perceptions of the protein market, the perception of protein origin, and the changes in retail channel choice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The red meat grower organisation has published a report summarizing the latest findings, which can be found here:

Click here to view the full report. . . 

Coronavirus: The harvest bubble ‘flogging the wifi’ as hand picking starts to wrap – Jennifer Eder:

Many seasonal workers in Marlborough’s wine industry are also stuck at home on Coronavirus lockdown as hand harvesting of grapes comes to an end.

All non-essential businesses were to close when the country moved to alert level 4 on March 25, but people working in the grape harvest were categorised an essential service as part of food and beverage production.

Many vineyard workers brought into the country on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme are approaching the end of their contracts, but cannot fly home during lockdown. . . 

‘Massive disconnect’: Helen Skelton urges public to respect farmers:

Television presenter Helen Skelton has said there is a ‘massive disconnect’ between food producers and the British public.

The BBC presenter, who currently hosts Springtime On The Farm, urged consumers to have greater respect for farmers.

The 36-year-old grew up on a farm herself, and has a ‘huge amount of respect’ for those who produce the nation’s food.

“Now I live on the edge of the city, and there’s a massive disconnect between food producers and the rest of the country,” she said. . . 

 


Queen addresses Commonwealth

April 6, 2020

For the fourth time in her long reign, Queen Elizabeth addresses the Commonwealth:

TVNZ has the full speech:

“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.

“I want to thank everyone on the NHS (National Health Service) front line, as well as care workers and those carrying out essential roles, who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of us all. I am sure the nation will join me in assuring you that what you do is appreciated and every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to more normal times.

“I also want to thank those of you who are staying at home, thereby helping to protect the vulnerable and sparing many families the pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones. Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.

“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.

“The moments when the United Kingdom has come together to applaud its care and essential workers will be remembered as an expression of our national spirit; and its symbol will be the rainbows drawn by children.

“Across the Commonwealth and around the world, we have seen heart-warming stories of people coming together to help others, be it through delivering food parcels and medicines, checking on neighbours, or converting businesses to help the relief effort.

“And though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation.

“It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do. While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us.

“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

“But for now, I send my thanks and warmest good wishes to you all.”


Rural round-up

April 6, 2020

Parker’s readiness to relax the RMA rules should be extended to freshwater constraints on farmers – Point of Order:

Environment  Minister   David  Parker  has directed  officials to find ways  to fast-track consents  for infrastructure and  development  projects. He says   his  goal  is to  help create a pipeline of projects  so that some can  start immediately once  Covid-19 restrictions  are  lifted “so people can get back into work as fast as possible”.

Parker sees the Covid-19 pandemic as a serious global crisis that will have a wide ranging and lasting impact on almost every part of  the economy for some time.

He recognises many New Zealanders have lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months, and many businesses are doing it hard. . .

Pork Industry leaders continue talks with government over surplus problem

Government officials and pork industry leaders have met again today via conference call to try and resolve concerns about a looming animal welfare crisis facing the sector.

As RNZ reported during the week, the pork industry has been getting increasingly worried about the growing number of surplus pigs on farms that cannot be sent to independent butchers. It has been urging the government to help.

Last night, the government decided butchers will be allowed to process pork, but only to supply supermarkets or retailers that are allowed to open.  . .

Milk tankers get clear run – Annette Scott:

The day of a milk tanker driver is different under covid-19 but without the traffic jams and roadworks it’s a lot easier.

Fonterra lower North Island depot manager Paul Phipps said being an essential service means milk is still being collected and processed and collection volumes are not wildly different to previous seasons.

That’s also considering this season’s challenges that have included a significant drought in the North and flooding in the South.

“Being an essential service means we are busy. We take our status as an essential service very seriously. . . 

New Zealand’s apple and pear harvest continues under strict rules:

Like many other horticulture sectors, the 2020 harvest of New Zealand’s apple, pear and nashi crop is well underway, with more than 14,000 workers harvesting around 600,000 tonnes of fruit destined for domestic and global consumers, and for processing.

The government has deemed the production and processing of food and beverages as an essential service, which means that the picking, packing and shipping of fruit can continue but with very strict protocols in place.

New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc chief executive Alan Pollard says that the industry understands and acknowledges the privileged position it is in, particularly when other businesses cannot operate.   

Straight Off The Tussock chapter 3 – Tim Fulton:

A continuation of a family story, as first told in 2005 – Straight off the Tussock

James Fulton, Jack’s grandfather, was a teacher on the Isle of Bute, half an hour by ferry from Glasgow. The island is only about eight by four miles wide but when he was headmaster there at Rothesay in about 1845, the school had around 1000 children, stuck out in the Firth of Clyde.

  In 1847, James was appointed director of Edinburgh’s historic Moray House, Scotland’s first teachers’ college and the first in the world to train women. A year later, the institution took a dramatic turn when it mounted a rebellion against the Church of Scotland. Moray House – now part of the University of Edinburgh – started in 1618 and it became a training college in 1813, when the Church of Scotland established a sessional school in the city. In 1835, that school became the Edinburgh Normal and Sessional School. In 1843, however, the disruption of the churches led to the foundation of The Free Church Normal and Sessional School nearby, while the Church of Scotland continued separately. In 1848, one year after James moved there, pupils and teachers of the Sessional School carried their desks down the Royal Mile to the new premises at Moray House. . . 

Food waste costs agriculture billions – Kim Chappell:

THIRTY ONE per cent of produce is being wasted before it even gets off farm – that’s lost income for farmers and lost product for supermarket shelves.

But the $1.1 billion to $2b wastage doesn’t have to be this way – there are gains that can be made to boost farmers’ returns per hectare which will in-turn boost the product hitting supermarkets and reduce waste.

In these times of high-demand as people panic-buy on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the solutions are already coming into play by necessity, in what is possibly the only silver lining to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, says Food Innovation Australia Limited special adviser Mark Barthel, one of the voices behind the Roadmap for reducing Australia’s food waste by half by 2030 . . 

 


The other curve

April 6, 2020

In ordering a lockdown and putting New Zealand into a state of emergency, the government is firmly fixed on reducing the spread of Covid-19 to save lives and, ultimately, eliminate the disease.

That’s the health side of the equation. Roger Partridge argues a coherent Covid-19 strategy would also taken into account the economic one:

Professor Sir David Skegg raised the 64-thousand-dollar (or perhaps 64 billion-dollar) question in his testimony before Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee this week. He asked whether the government had a clear the strategic objective for its unprecedented level-four lockdown.

Since the subtitle of Alert Level 4 is “Eliminate”, Sir David’s question might seem unfair. And Director General of Health, Dr Ashly Bloomfield, quickly clarified to media that elimination is indeed the goal.

But if elimination is the objective, it is troubling that Minister of Health David Clark referred to a goal of reducing the epidemic’s effect to successive “waves” of infection in his testimony before the Committee. There will be no waves of infection if elimination is successful.

Lack of consistency in messaging about the Government’s strategic objective is worrying. But there is a more fundamental concern with the elimination objective: the absence of a clear timeframe. Of course, we can eliminate the disease. If the four-week lockdown does not work, the government simply forces us into lockdown for longer. But at what cost?

A cost-benefit assessment sounds heartless when the goal of the lockdown policy is to save lives. But the country-wide pause has already triggered a domino-effect of business failures and job losses. Just as the coronavirus spreads exponentially, so does harm from the lockdown. For firms and workers, each day of lockdown causes more business failures and job losses.

It is easy to count the deaths of, or at least with, Covid-19. It will be harder to count the social costs, including lives lost, from both later treatment of other health conditions and the economic devastation, but they will be real.

These economic effects have health and wellbeing implications too. And at some point, the harm to the wellbeing of Kiwis from the lockdown may become greater than the benefit to the wellbeing of New Zealanders from continuing with it.

This will include more suicides, more domestic violence, more alcohol and drug abuse and delayed treatment for health conditions including cancer which could make a life or death difference.

Most estimates show unemployment soon running into double figures. Overseas estimates suggest if Governments are not careful unemployment could exceed 20% or even 30% – levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The hardship caused to hundreds of thousands of Kiwi families from widespread unemployment, the evaporation of job opportunities for the new generation of school leavers and the losses to the productive side of the economy which funds our social services and most of the population’s livelihoods, must all be factored into the Government’s strategic choices.

The business failures and job losses have both and economic and social cost that will feed off each other.

They will also result in less tax paid while demands on the public purse will increase.

Until it addresses this complicated equation, the Government’s Covid-19 strategy is at best only half complete. A well-informed strategy must consider both curves – the epidemiological curve and the economic curve.

In the meantime, Professor Skegg had some clear advice for the Government on the areas it must lift its game to give us the best chance of achieving the goal of elimination. The Government must fix the shortcomings with Covid-19 testing. It must enforce strict quarantining at the border. And it must improve contact tracing.

If the Government gets these tactics right, perhaps it can sidestep the bigger strategic decision. But it is fast bearing down on us.

In the meantime, the Government must be more transparent with New Zealanders on the difficult strategic choices the country is facing. If it isn’t, we risk drifting in a direction that may do more harm than good.

This response form the Prime Minister suggests she doesn’t understand that:

“A strategy that sacrifices people in favour of, supposedly, a better economic outcome is a false dichotomy and has been shown to produce the worst of both worlds: loss of life and prolonged economic pain,” Ardern said. . .

She is saying there would be fewer lives lost and less economic pain if the lockdown continues as it is which is not necessarily so. A better economic one would be a better social and health one too with fewer deaths from other causes.

The economic and social costs wouldn’t be so high if the government was to opt for safety rather than essential as the guide for which businesses can operate.

National on Sunday called for more businesses to be allowed to open up if they could prove they could operate safely.

“Our economy has already faced unprecedented devastation since the Government closed it down, we should be doing all we can help revive it and protect businesses and jobs,” economic development spokesman Todd McClay said.

“To date the decision making has been too arbitrary and there are too many inconsistencies. For instance, allowing dairies to open but not local butchers or greengrocers, agriculture to continue but not forestry, cigarettes to be manufactured but community newspapers cannot be printed.”

“If a business proves it can operate safely, provide contactless selling and ensure physical distancing then they should be able to operate.”

What’s the difference between butcheries, greengrocers and fishmongers following practices that keep their staff and customers safe, and supermarkets operating as they are now?

What’s the risk in greens keepers working by themselves on a golf course?

Why can’t  more businesses that sell online be able to do so? If it’s safe to sell a heater or a winter jumper why not a scanner or a shirt?

Why couldn’t some road works be done safely while there’s so little traffic? Why can’t some building continue as long as the tradies work alone or at safe distances from each other and without sharing tools? If an urgent repair to a vehicle can be done safely, why not a warrant of fitness?

All the arbitrary emphasis on essential rather than safe is doing is allow overseas online businesses to compete with domestic ones which might not survive the shutdown.

While Baur might have pulled out of New Zealand anyway, the government’s declaration that only daily media was essential has killed some of our best magazines.

The latest update on Covid-19 cases does show that the lockdown appears to have stopped the steep spike in cases seen elsewhere.

That doesn’t mean we can relax, but it ought to allow the government to take a broader look at its strategy and its social and economic costs.

The lockdown does appear to be achieving its aim of flattening the epidemiological curve, but the government is not doing nearly enough to consider the economic curve and the social costs that will result from that.

Flattening the Covid-19 curve is good but not at the cost of flattening the economy more than is necessary.


Rural round-up

April 5, 2020

Meat workers fight battle in small towns – Tim Ritchie:

Meat processing workers are among the heroes in our community, writes Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie.

Right  now, millions of New Zealanders are in a lockdown, following the Government’s announcement last week that the country is in Alert Level 4.

However, the situation is quite different for the many people who work in jobs considered essential services — healthcare professionals, border agencies, media, public safety and local and national government.

But also playing a critical but less visible role are more than 25,000 Kiwis working in the red meat processing sector. That’s because the Government has recognised the importance of the food production sector and classified meat processing companies as an essential service. . . 

Staying connected in isolation – a farmers’ guide – Karen WIlliams:

Sticking in our own bubble has never been as important as it is now. With New Zealand currently at Alert Level 4, everyone except those providing essential services must stay at home and self-isolate. Some farmers may feel that this is a continuation of their business as usual, because sometimes it can be a couple of days before we see anyone else.      

Even though we must self-isolate, there are some steps that we can take to ensure that we are still virtually connected to the communities around us, be it all the farming families along the shingle road or just your immediate neighbours.   

There are numerous examples of video calling technologies out there which we can use to stay connected, including WhatsApp, Facebook messenger and FaceTime.  They’re pretty easy to use. WhatsApp and Facebook messenger can be downloaded from the iTunes store or through Google Play.    

About 15 years ago I set up a neighbourhood email contact list which includes about 60 residents contact details along our road. I did this because of a burglary that I thought neighbours should know about and also a desire to make sure our community of farmers and lifestyle block owners stayed connected. It’s worked well, with many social occasions having sprung out of the initiative, and more recently it enabled the kick-start of our Community Catchment Group. Little did I know however that this email network would form the basis of our community connections during a pandemic! . . .

Covid-19: Fruit industry facing hurdles with harvest due to restrictions – Andrew McRae:

The kiwifruit industry is fighting for survival as it tries to pick and pack the season’s crop while enforcing Covid-19 restrictions.

The apple industry is also predicting problems with at least 10 percent of the crop not likely to be picked.

The nationwide lockdown has come right in the middle of the harvest season.

Mark Hume from Hume Pak ‘n Cool in Katikati normally employs 400 to 500 people in his packing shed, and about 180 pickers – all focusing on kiwifruit.

With the two-metre distance rule in place, his cool store will need to reduce staff by half. . . 

Young farmer pumping out six times as many Delivery boxes as usual – Maddison Northcott,:

Bundling together six times as many boxes of vegetables as usual is helping keep one rural Canterbury farm in business, getting fresh produce to customers all over the region.

Dominique Schacherer, co-owner of the Spring Collective, a 16-hectare market garden in Leeston, said orders for their curated boxes had sky-rocketed, with bookings growing from 40 to 250 weekly boxes in a handful of days.

The collective opened three years ago with the goal of supplying sustainably grown produce to farmers’ markets, restaurants and supermarkets. . .

Working on the farm: your Covid-19 questions answered – Glen Scanlon:

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We’ll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they’re responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

They’re back to number one in the export earning stakes and remain critical to our food chain, so what can farmers get up to during the Covid-19 crisis?

Here are some of their questions:

I manage a small farm and at present the animals need water taken to them because the dams that supplied their troughs are dried up. We are also moving electric fencing every few days to give them pasture to graze on. Can I and my two regular part-time farm workers carry out this work? We have modified our work practices already and travel around the farm in separate vehicles and maintain distance between ourselves when out of the vehicles. . . 

 

Why doesn’t Britain value its farmers? – James Rebanks:

They say eight people in our little village have got this plague. It seems weird that it would have found its way here, to these isolated northern farming valleys, where the snow clings on to the high fells, and the woodsmoke rises from the scattered farmhouses.

I always imagined that the apocalypse would look a bit like the movie of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But this valley seems oblivious to the crisis — it is all daffodils, snowdrops, birdsong, and trees bursting into leaf.

My flock is down in the valley bottom. The first lamb of the year was born today and is now lying with its mother. I come in from the fields and the TV news is like something from a science-fiction movie — they are building giant makeshift hospitals in the city centers. People are dying in their hundreds every day. But not far from the farmhouse a duck has made a nest by our pond and has laid thirteen pale green eggs in the midst of a perfect downy circle. . . 


One Day More

April 4, 2020

Ben and Danielle Marsh and their children have repurposed One Day More for the lockdown.


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