Rural round-up

28/06/2022

Farmers start new dairy season on an encouraging note as Fonterra signals another record milk price – Point of Order:

New  Zealand’s  dairy  industry, which is  proving  again it is  the  backbone of  the  country’s  export industries, has  been  given  fresh encouragement with the big  co-op Fonterra signalling  a  record  milk price for  the  season  that  has  just  opened.

It  comes  as the  payout  for  the  just-finished  season  stands  as  the  highest  since  the  co-op  was  formed in 2001.

So although farmers have  made  decisions for  this  season on  the  number  of  cows  they  are  milking,  they  have the  incentive  to go  hard on production  levels,  despite the  pressure  from  higher  costs  and worries  over climate changes measures, including  projected charges on emissions.

Fonterra’s buoyant  forecast contrasts with  a recent  report  by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank  which  said that despite global milk production looking set to decrease for the fourth consecutive quarter in Q2 2022, weakening global demand is expected to create a scenario that will see moderate price declines in dairy commodities during the second half of the year. . . 

How we are suckling the sheep milk industry government invests $7.97m in partnership which involves state-owned Landcorp – Point of Order:

Damien O’Connor scored twice – he issued one statement as Minister of Trade and another as Minister of Agriculture – while rookie Emergency Relief Minister Kieran McNulty broke his duck, announcing flood relief for the West Coast.

Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall put more runs on the board, too, with a statement about Government work to combat new and more dangerous variants of COVID-19.

In his trade job, O’Connor declared he was pleased with the quick progress of the United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement Legislation Bill that was introduced to the House yesterday.

It would  enable New Zealand to implement its obligations under the FTA and was necessary to bring the FTA into force, he explained. . . 

 

Kiwifruit sector forecasts drop in profits :

The kiwifruit sector is predicting lower profits this year, as yields drop and shipping costs continue to climb.

Kiwifruit marketer Zespri has sent out an update to growers which shows a decent drop in profit is expected this year.

Last year Zespri made a record $361.5 million, but this year that is expected to drop to between $227m and $247m.

Company spokesperson Carol Ward said it had been a difficult season. . . 

Have your say on the Forests Legal harvest Assurance Amendment Bill :

The Chairperson of the Primary Production Committee is now calling for public submissions on the Forests (Legal Harvest Assurance) Amendment Bill.

The bill would amend the Forests Act 1949 to establish a legal harvest system. This system aims to provide assurance that timber supplied and traded has been harvested legally. The legal harvest system would:

· require that log traders, primary processors, importers, and exporters who operate above specified thresholds to be registered

· require harvest information to be supplied to others when trading, and for records of that information to be kept . . 

Groundspread NZ is the new public face for the New Zealand groundspread fetilisers association :

Groundspread NZ (NZGFA) was established in 1956 to promote and protect the interests of both individuals and companies involved in the groundspread fertiliser industry. The Association is made up of 110 voluntary members from throughout New Zealand, with each member committed to promoting best practice fertiliser placement. Precision placement of fertiliser requires skilled operators, sound spreading equipment and appropriate fertilisers.

Groundspreaders are typically the first step in ensuring on-farm productivity, by spreading nutrients accurately and evenly, using the latest technology, finely calibrated vehicles, and highly trained operators, groundspreaders help farmers and growers get the best out of their nutrient spend. The skill involved in groundspreading means that food production in New Zealand gets the best start possible.

The new name and website better share the story of how the Association’s members contribute to on-farm performance. The new name and website are initiatives driven by the Association’s new and ambitious strategic plan, committed to ensuring best practice in the groundspread industry. Farmers and growers can now visit www.groundspreadnz.com to find a spreader in their area, learn more about how the Association supports members to operate at the high level that they do, and learn more about the Spreadmark scheme.

Spreadmark, established by Groundspread NZ (NZGFA) in 1994, was born from a commitment by the Association’s members to improve spreader performance and outcomes for their clients and the environment. Proper placement of fertiliser is of considerable agronomic benefit to farmers and growers and helps protect the environment from the undesirable side effects of poor fertiliser spreading practices. . . 

Greenfern industries attains important industry certification :

Greenfern Industries Limited (GFI:NZX) is pleased to announce it has attained its globally-recognised GACP (Good Agriculture and Collection Practice) certification for its cultivation facility based in Normanby, Taranaki.

“This is a milestone that the team has been working towards for some time since commencing cultivation and research and development in our pilot stage one facility,” said Greenfern’s managing director Dan Casey.

GACP guidelines were developed to create a single supranational framework to ensure appropriate and consistent quality in the cultivation and production of medicinal plant and herbal substances. They were developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 with the aim of improving the quality of medicinal plants being used in herbal medicines in the commercial market.

Greenfern’s certification was undertaken by Control Union Medicinal Cannabis Standards (CUMCS). Control Union Israel was one of the partners which formulated the Israeli Cannabis Standard, which is a global standard. Since then, they have been involved with the development of the Medical Cannabis Standard GAP. . . 


Regrets, he’s got a few

27/06/2022

Former Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has regrets:

. . . Asked if he had regrets, Hipkins said it is easy to look back with the knowledge we have now, but “you still have to make decisions based on the information that you had at the time.”

Hipkins told Q+A that some restrictions may have gone on too long.

“I think there were probably some areas where we could have moved more quickly to step down some restrictions,” he said.

“I think that lockdown in Auckland at the end of 2021 … I think nerves were pretty frayed by that and we should acknowledge that. Aucklanders paid a big price for our ongoing suppression of Delta while we got our vaccination rates up.” . . 

That begs the questions:

Does he also regret the slow vaccine rollout which is why vaccination rates weren’t nearly as high as they could, and ought to, have been when Delta got into the community?

Does he regret the mental, physical and financial toll the extended lockdown took?

Does he regret the lottery of misery that left people stranded without jobs and homes and kept so many people from coming home to be with seriously ill and dying family and friends, to attend funerals?

Does he regret the unfair and unkind exemption system that let hundreds of foreign DJs in but kept hundreds of pregnant New Zealand women out?

Does he regret the enormous economic and human cost of the extended lockdown and closed borders?

Does he regret the massive debts incurred by the Covid fund and the spending of a lot of it on initiatives that had nothing to do with Covid recovery?

Does he regret the slow approval and import of rapid antigen tests (RATs)?

Doe he regret the time and money his government has, and continues to waste, on restructuring the health system instead of strengthening it to cope with Covid-19 and the usual winter ills?

Does he regret not learning from repeated reports, and implementing the recommendations of them which would have reduced the impact of Delta and Omicron?

Having no playbook explains, and possibly excuses, early mistakes.

It neither explains nor excuses failing to learn from them and do much better, much sooner.


Missed opportunity to learn

16/06/2022

Yet another damning report on the Covid response:

A backlog in Covid-19 PCR testing which led to the country’s systems falling over should have been predicted and prevented by health officials, an independent review has concluded.

Poor communication, data limitations and a failure to learn from international experiences instead led to complacency and meant the country’s laboratories buckled under the strain of requests.

In March, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted the ministry had overestimated the number of Covid-19 PCR tests the country’s laboratories could process as the virus took off in the community.

The revelation came as Kiwis waited upwards of a week for test results and health experts warned of laboratories reaching a crisis point, while months earlier one of the Government’s own groups had raised red flags.

An independent review commissioned by the Ministry of Health and carried out by consultancy Allen and Clarke has now been released, laying bare the failures which led to the crash. . . 

With other countries having similarly faced difficulties with PCR testing in the face of Omicron, opportunities to learn from international experience were “substantial”.

“It is not apparent how these insights were incorporated into testing modelling, planning, or reporting.” . . 

The Ministry, and the Ministers, let us down again because the backlog was predictable:

A report out today shows the backlog of PCR testing was foreseeable and Ministers should take responsibility for a lack of action, National’s Covid-19 Spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“In the first quarter of this year, 9000 PCR COVID tests were sent to Australia and 32,000 samples were nearly destroyed after laboratories in New Zealand were unable to cope with the demand.

“Today’s COVID-19 PCR Testing Backlog report, which has finally been released by the Government, says the backlog in PCR testing that emerged in February 2022 ‘should have been and was to some degree predictable.’

“The Ministry of Health has been found wanting at critical times during the pandemic.

“Last year, Sir Brian Roche’s Continuous Improvement Group made repeated recommendations to improve the functionality of the Ministry, while the Testing Technical Advisory Group also made a series of recommendations around testing capacity.

That report, and others, changed nothing, and there is little if any hope that the extensive and expensive restructuring of the health system would make it any better.

“In the first quarter of this year Omicron was already prevalent in other countries and as today’s report notes, ‘opportunities to learn from international experience were substantial, particularly in relation to the speed at which positivity rates increase and the impact on pooling’.

“But Ministers failed to act, instead relying on assurances from officials that New Zealand had enough testing capacity.

“A lack of testing capacity had real consequences. As the report notes, without an accurate forecast date when PCR testing capacity would be exceeded, there was no deadline for when the RAT roll-out was required. New Zealand was slow on the uptake of RATs because it was assumed PCR testing capacity would suffice. It didn’t.

“National spent most of the latter part of 2021 calling for a quick roll-out of rapid tests. It was obvious to many that once Omicron took hold in the community, PCR testing would struggle.

“Why weren’t Ministers listening to independent experts who were saying this publicly. How much better would things have been if National’s calls for rapid tests were listened to?

“National has also argued for over a year that saliva testing capacity can and should be used. Saliva testing was outside the scope of today’s report, which says it all.

“The Government has consistently and wilfully ignored the potential of saliva testing to test for COVID-19. It beggars belief that the Government excluded saliva testing from the scope of the report; presumably on the basis that the report would be even more critical than it already is. Instead of utilising saliva testing properly the Government rammed a law through Parliament giving itself the power to confiscate the assets of saliva testing companies like Rako Science.

“Two years into the pandemic, Ministers should stop blaming officials for basic errors and start taking responsibility. The buck stops with them.”

It is difficult to understand how the Ministry couldn’t accurately estimate laboratory capacity:

Those representing the country’s medical lab workforce say the Health Ministry’s estimates of lab capacity during the Omicron peak amounted to “misinformation”.  . . 

Lab scientists knew they’d be overwhelmed as Omicron took hold at the beginning of 2022. The president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, Terry Taylor, said the warning signs were well canvassed. 

“It was 100 percent predictable. We’d been warning since early January about our lab capacity and the figures that were being trumpeted around just simply were not there,” he said. 

Just like the PPE shortages, people on the frontline were saying there were problems but the Ministry, and the Ministers, were at best ignoring them, or worse still not believing them.

Those figures relate to January 25 this year, when Minister Ayesha Verrall announced we were “well prepared” for Omicron. 

Testing capacity had “increased to 58,000 tests a day”, and could surge to more than 77,000, she said.   

But official information obtained by Newshub showed no one in the Minister’s office checked the accuracy of the numbers. 

The figures were repeated over, and over. At a press conference on January 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also hailed New Zealand’s level of preparedness when it came to testing. 

“We can do 60,000 tests a day,” she said. 

The messaging infuriated the frontline and Taylor has a message for the politicians and their advisers.  

“Have a think about your frontline health professionals before you start making ridiculous assumptions of what their capability is,” Taylor said.

The secretary of Apex, the union that represents lab workers, Dr Deborah Powell, agrees. 

“The numbers that were being put out in public – it was misinformation and lab workers knew that. They were very upset.” . . 

This is another review that tells the same old under prepared story:

“Not so well prepared” has been a phrase that has accompanied the Government’s Covid response since it started.

That doesn’t mean totally unprepared, but several independent reviews have repeatedly described the response as reactive, not proactive.

So it was again on Tuesday with the release of an independent report into the 32,000 PCR samples that gathered dust for five days in February. This followed repeated Government claims that all was fine and there was plenty of PCR capacity to deal with demand as the Omicron wave started to build.

The report is embarrassing reading for the Health Ministry. . . 

Embarrassing for the Ministry, frustrating for the frontline workers and others whose warnings weren’t listened to, including those who had solutions:

Too little, too late.

That is what Sir Ian Taylor thinks about the Ministry of Health approving the Lucira Covid-19 test kit for use in New Zealand nearly two years after it was first approached about them.

On Wednesday, the ministry published a notice, signed by director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, in the New Zealand Gazette stating the tests, which return a result in 30 minutes with standard PCR accuracy, had been granted a full exemption for
use in New Zealand.

The kits consisted of a self-administered nasal swab that goes into a tube and is processed in a battery-powered testing device.

United States-based Lucira first approached the New Zealand Government about the tests in 2020, not long after the pandemic started.

Taylor, who had been urging the Government for months to approve them, said while it was great they had been approved, it had come far too late.

The tests could have been a “game-changer” earlier this year when the Omicron variant started to spread around the country which put “massive strain” on the testing laboratories. 

It could have also been used as a tool to wind down managed isolation and quarantine earlier than it was, Taylor said.

“While they have approved it, it’s like a lot of other things, they were late with the vaccinations, they were late with the rapid antigen tests [RATs], and they are late with this.” . . 

The Ministry, and Ministers, missed the opportunities to learn from overseas again.

S much of the Covid response wasn’t hard and early as the government kept telling us, but late and lax, again and again and again at an enormous human and financial cost.


Rural round-up

07/06/2022

Why this is not the time for government to be heaping regulatory costs on farmers and requiring a culling of the dairy herd – Point of Order:

On-farm inflation is at its highest level in almost 40 years, according to Beef + Lamb NZ’s Economic Service, and costs are expected to increase.  Meanwhile Federated  Farmers  says farmers’ satisfaction with their banks is relatively stable but more are feeling under pressure and the costs of finance are rising.

“Inflation is putting many New Zealanders and businesses under pressure, and our food producers are no different,” Feds President and economic spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

While Consumer Price Index (CPI) data has the annual inflation rate at 6.9%, the latest on-farm inflation rate has hit 10.2%  – the highest it’s been since 1985-86 (13.2%).

B+LNZ is concerned increasing regulatory requirements from the Government, such as freshwater and biodiversity rules, will stretch farmers even further. . . 

Another solid season looms – Rural News:

 Given what’s happening around the world, New Zealand dairy farmers are on to a pretty good thing with its internationally envied farming system.

A record milk price this season and another solid opening forecast for the new season bodes well for farmers’ income.

Dairy demand is still quite strong and supply remains constrained globally, especially in the US and Europe.

However, there are some short-term challenges: Covid, China’s most recent lockdowns and the unrest in Sri Lanka – a key market for Fonterra milk powder. . .

Tough conditions produce good stock – Shawn McAvinue:

Extreme weather conditions on a high-country station in the Maniototo allow for the best breeding of Charolais cattle in the country, Glen Ayr Station manager Drew Dundass says.

“The cream rises to the top.”

More than 80 people attended the 28th annual Taiaroa & Cotswold Charolais Bull Sale on Glen Ayr Station in Paerau Valley last week.

Of the 28 bulls on offer, 26 sold for an average of $6392, and the top price was $11,500. . . 

Queen’s Birthday honours unofficial mayor of Tarata gets official – Ilona Hanne:

He’s the unofficial mayor of Tarata, and now Bryan Hocken is officially a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).

Bryan was made an MNZM in the Queen’s Birthday and Platinum Jubilee Honours List 2022, for services to agriculture and the rural community.

Announced on Monday, June 6, it’s an honour he describes as having left him “blown away”.

“I wasn’t expecting it. When I saw the email telling me, I just couldn’t believe it.” . . 

Tea Estate back on the boil – Sudesh Kissun:

New Zealand’s only tea farm is back on the boil.

The 48ha Zealong Tea Estate, near Hamilton, is preparing to welcome back local and international visitors after a two-year hiatus.

Home to 1.2 million tea plants, Zealong is the world’s largest internationally certified organic tea estate. It has a philosophy of enhancing the soil quality using carefully managed organic farm practices.

General manager Sen Kong says the company is excited to start welcoming visitors back after a challenging two years. . . 

RSPCA state New Zealand is judged to have higher welfare than UK – John Sleigh:

Flying largely in the face of what is perceived in the UK, New Zealand is the one country globally that can be judged to have better farm animal welfare standards than the UK – that’s according to animal protection body, the RSCPA.

Animal welfare has been put in the spotlight as the UK and New Zealand thrash out a potential Free Trade Agreement, where it is proposed traded food products must be produced to similar standards. UK opponents have been using the welfare issue as a potential block, citing better standards in the UK.

However, when giving evidence to Westminster’s International Agreements Committee, the RSCPA stated: “New Zealand is the only country with whom the UK is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement where there is broad equivalence on animal welfare standards. In some areas, New Zealand’s farm standards are above the UK’s.”

The RSPCA lists non-stun slaughter, increased lameness in sheep, legal live exports and poorer access to the outdoors for dairy cattle as areas where the UK lags behind on welfare. Whilst in other areas, the charity stated that the UK was ahead of New Zealand with our ban on sow stalls, more free range hens and henhouse cleanliness rules. . . 

 


Rural round-up

30/05/2022

Fonterra announces record opening milk price payment for its farmers next season as demand remains strong – Point of Order:

New Zealand  has  suffered  several  jolts  in  the  past week, not  least a  higher interest rate regime as the Reserve  Bank counters  surging inflation.  But  at least  one  beacon of  light shines through the gloom:  the country’s leading primary  export  industry’s boom   is  moving  to a  second  season  of high prices.

Dairy  giant Fonterra,  which sets  the  pace  for  other dairy processors,  has announced a record opening milk price payment for farmers next season amid expectations of continued strong demand for dairy products and constrained global supply.

The co-op expects to pay farmers between $8.25 and $9.75kg/MS  for the season starting next month.  The mid-point, on which farmers are paid, is $9 kg/MS.

That breaks the previous record set at this time last year, when Fonterra’s opening price for the current season was $7.25 – $8.75kg/MS, with a mid-point of $8kg/MS. . . 

Rural mental health ignored again this budget :

The Government was made well aware of mental health concerns for rural communities in a meeting in December last year, this Budget has neglected to do anything to address this crisis, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says.

“It is dead clear from the minutes we received under the Official Information Act that everyone around the table could see that things were bad and getting worse” Kuriger says

“The minutes note that clear themes emerged from a discussion of the drivers of poor mental health, including: workforce shortages, public perception of farmers, and the pace of new regulations.

“If they didn’t already know, it is clear that in December the Prime Minister and Minister O’Connor knew what was happening to our rural communities and were asked by rural sector leaders for help, they’ve had all this time to make a plan but have still done nothing in this budget to address it. . . 

Zespri global revenue exceeds $NZ 4 billion for first time despite challenging 2021-22 season:

. . . A record crop, ongoing investment in brand-led demand creation, and the industry’s ability to respond and leverage its scale and structure have helped Zespri deliver a record result for the 2021/22 season, with total global fruit sales revenue exceeding NZ$4 billion for the first time.

In spite of the immense challenges faced by the industry this season, Zespri’s 2021/22 Financial Results show total global revenue generated by fruit sales reached NZ$4.03 billion, up 12 percent on the previous year, with total global operating revenue up by 15 percent to NZ$4.47 billion. Global sales volumes also increased 11 percent on the previous year to 201.5 million trays.

The results saw direct returns to the New Zealand industry increase to a record $2.47 billion including loyalty payments, despite the considerable uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and cost increases across the supply chain. Earnings were again spread through regional communities including within the Bay of Plenty, Northland, Nelson, Gisborne, and the Waikato. . . 

Grower returns remained strong in a challenging season, with per hectare returns representing our second best on record across all varieties: . . 

Top ploughers head to Ireland to compete in world championship – Kim Moodie:

New Zealand’s best ploughing talent is set to represent the country in Ireland this year at the World Ploughing Championships. 

Ian Woolley and Bob Mehrtens, who took out the top titles at the New Zealand Ploughing Championships in Seddon earlier this month, are now preparing to compete against the world’s best in September.

Woolley, who won the Silver Plough conventional competition, told RNZ he’s excited to compete, and to soak up the atmosphere, as the event draws a huge crowd.

“It’s basically their National Field Days, there’s 100,000-odd people there each day for three days, although the plowing is on the outskirts of where the main show is taking place. . . 

Silver Fern Farms partnership between consumers and farmers key to nature positive food production :

Silver Fern Farms today celebrated the launch of its USDA-approved Net Carbon Zero By Nature 100% Grass-Fed Angus Beef at a New York City event attended by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Held at the Kimpton Hotel Eventi rooftop in Chelsea, the Prime Minister was joined by the visiting New Zealand trade mission, Silver Fern Farms US customers and in-market partners, and New York and U.S. national media. The event was to celebrate the successful introduction of Net Carbon Zero By Nature Angus Beef to the U.S., which is already being sold in supermarkets in the New York Tri-state area, the Midwest, and California.

Silver Fern Farms Chief Executive Simon Limmer says closer partnerships between consumers and farmers through products like Net Carbon Zero beef hold the key to addressing our collective climate and environmental challenges.

“As New Zealand’s largest processor and marketer of red meat, we are in a unique position to build closer partnerships between the needs of discerning customers and our farmers in a way that incentivises nature-positive food production,” says Simon Limmer. . . 

MPI announces finalists in 2022 good employer awards :

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) have announced finalists for the 2022 Primary Industries Good Employer Awards.

Now in their third year, the Awards are run by MPI and AGMARDT to celebrate employers who put their people at the heart of their businesses.

“We received a number of impressive entries,” says MPI’s Director Investment, Skills and Performance, Cheyne Gillooly.

“Central to all of the entries was a real passion shown by businesses towards supporting their employees by putting their health, welfare and wellbeing first.” . . 


Extended orange for Covid or ‘flu?

25/05/2022

Fear of a second wave of Covid is why the government says it’s keeping the country at the Covid orange setting until the end of June:

. . . Hipkins said the orange setting remained appropriate for managing the Covid outbreak.

The arrival of new strains of cold and flu was another reason to remain cautious. . . 

This begs the question: is the extension of the orange setting for Covid or the ‘flu?

The ‘flu usually kills about 500 people a year. That’s more than have died of, as distinct from with, Covid in the last two years but is ‘flu as infectious and isn’t the vaccine reasonably effective?

Whatever the answers to those questions, is the extension because Covid and the ‘flu could put too much pressure on the health system?

If that’s the case, why aren’t ‘flu vaccines free for more people and why hasn’t increasing capacity in the health system been a far higher priority?

Focusing on the front line, including allowing migrant health professionals who are here to fast track residency, allowing more in from overseas and improving pay and conditions to make working here more competitive with Australia would have helped.

It would certainly do a lot more for better health outcomes than the extensive and expensive restructuring of the whole system.


Takers or makers

24/05/2022

This is a government of takers.

They took away our freedom and while the first Covid-19 lockdown was excusable, subsequent ones that were due to the delay in the vaccination rollout were not.

Matthew Hooton writes of the cost of last year’s extended Auckland lockdown:

. . .Then, in late August, our still largely unvaccinated population was hit by Delta. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had no choice but to order what became the long lockdown of 2021/22. It contributed to yesterday’s Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU) estimating Robertson will end up spending $128.4b to get us through 2021/22.

That’s $13.7b more, or over $7000 for each of New Zealand’s estimated 1.9 million households. The “good news” is that Robertson expects to collect an extra $10.6b in tax this financial year compared with the forecast a year ago, or around $5500 more per household.

Inflation is one reason why, fuelled by both monetary and fiscal stimulus being needed for much longer than if we had been vaccinated before Delta arrived.

That, of course, is only the start of the cost. In Auckland in particular, the preventable lockdown also drove more family businesses broke, ruined a second school year for tens of thousands of students and worsened already fragile mental health.

Yet no one in the Beehive or the bureaucracy has even apologised for the failure to begin our mass vaccination programme six months earlier. . . 

The late rollout also took some of the freedoms we were promised over summer, people without vaccine passes were barred from a lot of places, numbers were restricted for weddings, funerals and other events; and we were all still supposed to sign in.

And let’s not forget taking the freedom to come and go from New Zealand that grounded so many Kiwis overseas, kept others here,  locked out families and friends, is still keeping some migrant families apart and restricting employers ability to get migrant workers.

Then there’s Three Waters and the very real threat that they’ll take away both the assets and control from local authorities and rural water schemes.

And the biggest take away is money  in higher taxes, higher costs through more regulations, and worst of all the loss we’re all having to bear because of inflation that’s adding to the cost of everything and eroding the real value of savings.

Not content with that the government is looking at how to take more from the wealthy, in spite of a promise there would be no new taxes and no wealth tax.

Just think how much better off we’d all be, individually and collectively if they put as much thought in how they could help us to make more instead of how they could take more.

This is a government of takers. The country desperately needs one that understands and supports makers.


3 1/2 months extra MIQeue misery

20/04/2022

How’s this for kindness?

Top health officials agreed in November last year that Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) was “no longer justified” for most returnees, according to a document the Ministry of Health tried to keep secret.

It took another three and a half months, almost 40,000 MIQ stays and seven voucher lotteries before most incoming travellers could enter freely.

At the time the document was signed off, 80 percent of the country’s eligible population had been double-vaccinated and Delta was spreading in the community.

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay wrote to Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield seeking his agreement to an updated Public Health Risk Assessment.

She wanted it to reflect that “the risk posed by international arrivals transmitting Covid-19 is no longer higher than the domestic transmission risk of Covid-19”.

McElnay asked Bloomfield if he agreed the risk was no higher, and if so: “Managed Isolation for border returnees would no longer be justified on public health grounds as the ‘default’ for people travelling to New Zealand,” the document said.

Bloomfield did agree, and he also agreed to brief Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, and start creating a plan for making ‘self-isolation’ the default requirement for returnees.

The memo noted the government might need to speed up its plan for a phased easing of border restrictions in the first quarter of 2022.

Yet it was not until 2 March, 15 weeks later, before the government lifted MIQ requirement for inbound travellers. 

That’s 15 more weeks of misery for people wanting to come home.

That’s 15 more weeks when people couldn’t get in to farewell the dying and dead or celebrate weddings, birthdays and Christmas with the living.

That’s 15 more weeks when people were stuck overseas, often in desperate financial and or/personal circumstances.

University of Waikato law professor Al Gillespie said the delay raised serious concerns.

“The Public Health Response Act, one of the requirements is that the responses must be proportionate. And the advice that was given was that it was a disproportionate response to continue MIQ. If that’s the case, the government has to answer why did they continue down this path.”

The implications could be vast, he said.

“You’ve had people who’ve had their liberty interrupted. You’ve had people who’ve paid thousands of dollars being in MIQ. And you’ve had thousands of people who haven’t been able to access MIQ.

“If the government cannot show why this was justifiable … then there may be considerations of compensation.” . . .

So why didn’t the government accept the advice, based on the science they kept telling us they were following?

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins responded with a statement.

“The advice considered by ministers at the time said that while the public health risk at the border has changed, there still needs to be a considered transition from Managed Isolation as the ‘default’ setting for most people arriving in New Zealand, to a new approach,” he said.

“It also said the public health risk of any changes to the managed isolation settings needed to be considered and managed alongside the implementation of the Covid-19 Protection Framework and Reconnecting NZ. The timing of the border reopening allowed us the chance to get our vaccination and booster rates up and that’s had a huge impact on our management of the current Omicron outbreak.” . . 

And why wasn’t the vaccination rate already high enough?

Because the government bungled ordering vaccines so the rollout was slow and late.

That was a very costly bungle.

Had the vaccine rollout been earlier and faster it’s probable Auckland wouldn’t have been locked down for so long, if at all when Delta got into the community; the rest of the country could have been at green; thousands of people could have come home without the cost and inconvenience of MIQ and many more would not have had to endure the misery of applying for and missing out on the MIQueue lottery.

That delay in ending MIQ was costly in human and economic terms.

Now we know the MIQeue of misery could have been ended 3 1/2 months sooner darewe hope it will have a high political cost too as once more the government is shown to be anything but kind.


Rural round-up

07/04/2022

Govt tightening screw on rural communities :

In allowing spiralling costs and rampant inflation to hit New Zealand’s most productive sector, the Labour Government is biting the hand that literally feeds it, National’s Rural Communities spokesperson Nicola Grigg says.

“New Zealand’s agricultural sector is seeing a dramatic rise in input costs as farmers and growers grapple with the same cost of living crisis that is impacting us all.

“The increase in costs is being felt particularly badly by our farmers. In the last year, the cost of fuel has risen more than 44 per cent, fertiliser more than 28 per cent, stock feed and grazing more than six per cent, seeds six percent and power 21 per cent.

“If you want to go out and buy a new Toyota Hilux you’ll now be paying an extra $5175 in ‘ute tax’ when registering it – and Labour will soon be introducing legislation requiring employers pay a 1.4 per cent levy on employees’ salaries into a new ‘income insurance scheme’. . . 

Predictable delays for meat processing :

Meat works around the country are struggling to meet demand due to the Government’s failure to keep pace with a vital cog in the supply chain, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says.

“Farmers are being forced to hold onto livestock longer as meat works across the country have wait times stretching up to six weeks. This adds even more pressure to our farmers, with some having to dip into their winter baleage supply early or buy in costly feed supplement alternatives.

“The Agriculture Minister and the Government made assurances that they would take steps to limit any disruption for our essential farming industry, but as predicted, they have failed to do this.

“Labour failed to deliver to bring in the necessary workers due to stringent immigration rules, and they failed to supply the meat works industry with rapid antigen test in a timely manner, causing disruptions to staff. . . 

Nursery aims to make native trees more accessible – Colin Williscroft:

For Adam Thompson, establishing native flora on farmland goes beyond the obvious environmental and biodiversity benefits.

It gives farmers a sense of pride in seeing a piece of marginal, unproductive land transformed into something that complements and enhances their farming operation.

“A lot of farmers are proud of growing food. “We’re helping them do it in a more sustainable way,” Thompson said.

The 35-year-old Cambridge farmer and owner of Restore Native tree nursery wants all farmers to feel that pride by making it as easy and inexpensive as possible to plant and grow native trees on farmland not suited for livestock. . . 

Synlait is confident it is back on the path to pre-2021 profitability levels – Point of Order:

ANZ  reports widespread autumn rain has devastated many arable and fruit crops, but has been welcomed by pastoral farmers.

Food commodities are in short supply globally.  New Zealand will  export less produce than normal this season as production of most  export commodities is impacted for varying reasons including delays with the processing of livestock and the impacts of labour shortages.

So it  was  something of  a  surprise,  but  a  welcome  one,  when Synlait Milk reported  its net profit (excluding the sale of an Auckland property) had risen 128% to $14.5m in the first half.

The  dairy  processing company said it was also on the way to reporting previous levels of profitability in the 2023 financial year after posting a $28.5m loss in 2021. . . 

NZ woolgrowers among sectors hit by China’s Covid-19 restrictions :

A resurgence of Covid-19 within China is causing headaches for some primary sector exporters, with lockdown measures disrupting economic activity and slowing down distribution networks.

China’s ongoing “zero-Covid” strategy uses swift lockdowns and aggressive restrictions to contain any outbreak. As part of this, late last month Shanghai was placed into the biggest city-wide lockdown since the Covid outbreak began more than two years ago.

PGG Wrightson’s South Island wool manager Dave Burridge said demand for wool had dropped off because China’s manufacturing regions had been affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.

“It’s having a direct impact on bottom-line returns to woolgrowers, certainly there is quite a dramatic effect on [prices for] the types [of wool] the Chinese normally buy.” . . 

Almonds a new high-value nut to crack :

Another ‘nutty’ idea could lead to a brand-new almond industry in New Zealand.

Plant & Food Research is embarking on a feasibility study to see if almonds can be grown sustainably in Hawke’s Bay. The project has backing from central and local government, alongside Picot Productions Limited – Kiwi producers of the Pic’s brand nut spreads.

“We’re already supporting peanut growing trials in Northland – now it’s almonds’ turn,” says Steve Penno, Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) director of investment programmes.

“The first step is to see whether we can successfully produce almonds with a low carbon footprint at scale and for a competitive price in New Zealand.” . . 


Rural round-up

22/03/2022

Book culling space now! – Peter Burke:

Livestock farmers are being urged to plan ahead for possible meat processing disruption due to Covid-19.

The expectation of some farmers that they can ring up a buyer at short notice and have animals collected quickly and taken to the processing works is unrealistic at the moment.

The chair of the Animal Welfare Forum Lindsay Burton says with Omicron in the community, there is a high degree of uncertainty around the availability of a labour force in processing plants. He says even before the recent omicron outbreak, the industry was 5,500 workers short and the situation has the potential to get worse.

The Farm to Processor Animal Welfare Forum – a grouping of various industries related to livestock farming – says it is critical that farmers book space at meat processors well in advance. It is also warning farmers to be prepared to potentially hold stock on farm for longer. . . 

‘It’s beyond a joke’ – farmer outraged at milk tanker fracas near front gate – Chloe Blommerde:

A dairy farmer reckons $80,000 worth of milk could have gone down the drain during a milk tanker fracas with boy racers on the road near his front gate.

Footage of the incident shows a group of people crowding around a Fonterra tanker and its driver in the middle of the night as a stream of white pours onto the tarseal, however it’s unclear how much was lost.

Police received a report that a milk truck was damaged by a group of people near the intersection of Stokes and Orini roads in Waikato around 1.20am on Saturday.

The rural crossroads is a well-known spot for street racers to park up and do burnouts at the weekend. . . 

Fonterra to exit Russian business :

Fonterra has today announced it will exit its businesses in Russia. This follows the Co-op’s decision to suspend shipments of product to Russia at the end of February.

CEO Miles Hurrell says “our first step following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was to establish the safety of the team in Russia, and our priority through this process continues to be doing the right thing by our people.

“We then suspended shipment of product to Russia while we assessed the impact of economic sanctions and discussed our long-term plans with our customers and joint venture partner.

“Following careful consideration of the impact on our people and our long-term plans for the Russian market, we will now close our office in Moscow, re-deploying staff where possible, and withdraw from our joint venture Unifood.” . .

Business relationships crucial to success of winning farmers :

Bay of Plenty Share Farmer of the Year winners Scott and Becks O’Brien say farmers have nothing to lose and everything to gain in Dairy Industry Awards. Their advice to potential entrants is to give it a go.

“Whether you come first or last doesn’t really matter, because the networking with so many different people, and the feedback and information and scrutiny you’re getting on your business is as valuable as winning. You just have to give it a go. It’s little nerve wracking, but we really enjoyed it, and what you get out of it is so worth it.”

The O’Briens are sharemilking 900 cows on two farms about 10 minutes apart in the Galatea district. Since 2017 they have milked 650 cows on Rory and Susan Gordon’s 260-hectare farm, and since 2020 have been milking 250 cows on Cathy and Peter Brown’s 100-hectare property.

Scott has been dairy farming since he left school, just over 20 years ago. He and Becks have been married for 16 years. The start of their relationship was dramatic, with 21-year-old Becks diagnosed with cancer just after they met. It has permanently affected her voice, but after being at home with their young family – 12-year-old Hunter, 10-year-old Summer, and 8-year-old Piper – she has become an educational support worker at Galatea School (where Scott is also on the board of trustees). . . 

From Auckland to Reporoa lifestyle choice brings success in Dairy Industry Awards:

A former Auckland sales and marketing executive and a former adventure tourism guide and boutique lodge manager have won the 2022 Central Plateau Share Farmer of the Year title.

Todd and Renee Halliday were announced the winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category at the Central Plateau Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held at the Lake Taupō Yacht Club on Thursday night. The other big winners were Satveer Singh, who was named the 2022 Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year, and Zoe Bryson, the 2022 Central Plateau Dairy Trainee of the Year.

Todd was born and bred in Auckland city and had never set foot on a farm until he met Renee, who is a dairy farmer’s daughter. The couple spent five years in the hospitality sector managing boutique lodges together before entering the dairy industry in 2009.

Todd initially spent two years as a farm assistant in Reporoa before progressing to a management role for a further two years. He and Renee then spent seven years in Mid Canterbury before returning to Reporoa where they now contract milk and are equity partners with Phil and Diane Herdman, on a 153ha Reporoa property, milking 520 cows. They won $17,060 in prizes and eight merit awards. . . 

RIP plant based meat mania – Prime Future:

I am often asked about my view on alternative meats and the threat they pose to old fashioned, plant-fed meat. I’ve stayed away from that question, for the most part because I’m just more interested in plant-fed meat.

First, it’s important to separate “alternative meat” into 3 distinct buckets: plant-based, fermented, cell-based.

Today we are looking at the plant-based meat category. Spoiler alert: I find the plant-based meat category bland and uninspiring. And honestly, I think we can reasonably lay plant-based meat mania to rest in peace in the history books, right alongside 1990’s emu farming mania in the US.

Some background on VC’s appetite for the category: . . 


Rural round-up

17/03/2022

‘Unviable to grow produce’ in NZ: Farmers blame rising cost of energy, rates, wages, audits – Sally Murphy:

Increasing costs are putting a huge strain on vegetable growers, with some considering hanging up their tools.

Energy costs have almost doubled in the past year, the minimum wage has gone up and the price of on-farm audits are rising – making growing vegetables more expensive.

NZ Gourmet director of production Roelf Schreuder said the business needed to have audits for certification, water quality, chemical storage and health and safety, just to name a few.

“For certification for NZ Gap and Global Gap they come a couple of times a year and charge about $240 an hour to sit down and check the books, so growers are having to spend more time and money preparing for them as well as paying for the actual audit – it’s a big cost. . . .

Fruit and vegetables drive up annual food prices :

Annual food prices rose 6.8 percent in February 2022 compared with February 2021, Stats NZ said today.

This was the largest annual increase since July 2011 when prices increased 7.9 percent.

In February 2022 compared with February 2021:

  • fruit and vegetable prices increased by 17 percent
  • grocery food prices increased by 5.4 percent . . .

A farmer’s perspective:

After enduring COVID19 and isolating for 10 days, I was asked to give my opinion on how we managed the farm, family and staff.  Regardless of how people think of COVID19, whether it’s a she’ll be right mentality or you have ordered a pallet of Vitamin C along with toilet roll, the reality is you’re going to get sick.

We were prepared with a COVID plan.  We knew our legal obligations around milk pick up and we knew we needed to be a step ahead.  The virus hit us pretty hard and happened within a day of first contact. Within those first 24hrs I had rung our neighbours, our 2IC, Fonterra (area manager and milk collection), our bank, school and thereafter kept everyone updated.  We had a designated drop off point for food, medication and anything that was needed for the farm.  We were able to work most of the days out of necessity and kept away from our 2IC. We had to amend our milking times to be able to use a relief milker. To put things in perspective, adults were double vaxed with boosters. Kids not vaccinated. We still caught the virus but certainly didn’t need any outside medical intervention or Hospitalisation. COVID will affect people differently.

We got very sick and it was tough watching the kids going through it.  We lived on paracetamol, vitamins and electrolytes and we used my “My Food Bag”. We put the farm on sleep mode for about 5 days. We didn’t want to overwhelm staff with the extra workload so we kept the jobs to essential along with milking.  I would suggest checking your calendar and canceling all your appointments. We had a shed inspection during COVID but all went well. In hindsight I would have cleared the calendar.  We did have people call to the door and had to tell them our situation, most were thankful for our honesty, some were less than pleased.  Public perception has shown me people are scared and nervous.  At one point when the fever hit hard and the body ached and every orifice was evacuating someone drove into the driveway and I sure I heard, bring out your dead!  But after day 6 we were on the mend.  . .

Fonterra reports its Interim Results :

  • Total Group Revenue: NZ$10,797 million, up 9%
  • Reported Profit After Tax NZ$364 million, down 7%
  • Normalised Profit After Tax: NZ$364 million, down 13%
  • Total Group normalised EBIT: NZ$607 million, down 11%
  • Net Debt: NZ$5.6 billion, down 8%
  • Total Group normalised Gross Profit: NZ$1,607 million, down 7%
  • Total Group normalised Gross Margin: 14.9% down from 17.4%
  • Total Group Operating Expenditure: NZ$1,062 million, up 1%
  • Normalised Africa, Middle East, Europe, North Asia, Americas (AMENA) EBIT: NZ $250 million, up 25%
  • Normalised Greater China EBIT: NZ$236 million, down 20%
  • Normalised Asia Pacific (APAC) EBIT: NZ$158 million, down 33%
  • Full year forecast normalised earnings per share: 25 – 35 cents per share
  • Interim Dividend: 5 cents per share
  • Forecast Farmgate Milk Price range: NZ$9.30 – $9.90 per kgMS
  • Forecast milk collections: 1,480 million kgMS, down 3.8%

Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited today announced its 2022 Interim Results which show the Co-op has delivered a half year Profit After Tax of NZ$364 million, a Total Group normalised EBIT of NZ$607 million, and a decision to pay an interim dividend of 5 cents alongside a record high forecast Farmgate Milk Price.

Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell says the Co-op’s results for the first half of the financial year show it is performing well, while creating the momentum needed to achieve its 2030 targets. . .

Māori owned dairy company, Miraka, has appointed global food industry executive, Karl Gradon, as its new CEO :

Chairman, Kingi Smiler has welcomed Mr Gradon’s appointment which followed an extensive search.

“We’re delighted to appoint Karl as our new CEO. He has solid credentials and international experience in business development and strategy across the dairy, agricultural and primary industry sectors.”

Karl spent nearly 20 years in the dairy industry with Fonterra and Kerry Ingredients holding Senior Management positions in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the USA.

Since returning home, he has taken up a range of governance roles and directorships in economic development and business. Karl was also CEO of New Zealand Mānuka Group helping that business grow its Mānuka honey and oil production.” . . 

Groundswell NZ proposes emissions reduction plan :

The proposals put forward under the He Waka Eke Noa Partnership are so unworkable that Groundswell NZ is proposing its own alternative, Groundswell NZ leader Bryce McKenzie said.

“None of the options are workable and, like the Emissions Trading Scheme, they will deliver worse outcomes for the environment, farmers, and our country.”

“We back Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard’s view, that none of the options are long term solutions and that an emissions tax, without affordable and practical new technologies, would kill off the farming sector.”

“Groundswell NZ’s alternative is an integrated environmental policy framework incentivising and enabling on the ground actions across all aspects of the environment, including freshwater, indigenous biodiversity, and emissions.” . . 

                                                                   

Ukraine – how the global fertiliser shortage is going to affect food – John Hammond & Yiorgos Gadanakis :

We are currently witnessing the beginning of a global food crisis, driven by the knock-on effects of a pandemic and more recently the rise in fuel prices and the conflict in Ukraine. There were already clear logistical issues with moving grain and food around the globe, which will now be considerably worse as a result of the war. But a more subtle relationship sits with the link to the nutrients needed to drive high crop yields and quality worldwide.

Crops are the basis of our food system, whether feeding us or animals, and without secured supply in terms of volume and quality, our food system is bankrupt. Crops rely on a good supply of nutrients to deliver high yields and quality (as well as water, sunlight and a healthy soil), which in modern farming systems come from manufactured fertilisers. As you sit and read this article, the air you breath contains 78% nitrogen gas – this is the same source of nitrogen used in the production of most manufactured nitrogen fertilisers.

However, to take this gas from the air and into a bag of fertiliser takes a huge amount of energy. The Haber-Bosch process, which converts nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia as a crucial step in creating fertilisers, uses between 1% and 2% of all energy generated globally by some estimates. Consequently, the cost of producing nitrogen fertiliser is directly linked to the cost of fuel. This is why the UK price of ammonium nitrate has climbed as high as £1,000 per tonne at the time of writing, compared to £650 a week ago.

Fertiliser inputs to farming systems represent one of the largest single variable costs of producing a crop. When investing in fertiliser, a farmer must balance the return on this investment through the price they receive at harvest. Adding more fertiliser, for a small improvement in yield, might not pay for itself at harvest. . .


Kindness doesn’t extend to kin

17/03/2022

The doors to New Zealand are finally creaking open.

Vaccinated Australians will be permitted to come here from April 13th and others from visa waiver countries will be welcomed after May 2nd.

We could quibble over why it’s going to take so long and also ask if many will want to come if we’re still at the Red Covid setting.

We might also wonder if this is an indication we won’t still be stuck in Red by then.

But there’s a bigger question – what about split migrant families who have been kept apart for two years and who aren’t in Australia or from visa waiver countries?

Could it be because the Immigration Ministry is so dysfunctional it couldn’t cope with the visas?

Whether or not that’s the case, it is indeed cruel that kindness doesn’t extend to the kin of migrants and these families will have to endure so many more months apart.


Rural round-up

11/03/2022

Fonterra repeals vaccine mandate in favour of daily rapid antigen tests – Jean Bell:

Unvaccinated employees will now be handed a rapid antigen test rather than a dismissal letter

Fonterra is abandoning its hardline vaccine policy, opting for daily rapid antigen testing in a move employment law experts call “pragmatic”. 

The dairy giant was due to enforce a strict mandate on April 1, 2022, requiring all employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated.

But in an email note sent out to staff this week, chief executive Miles Hurrell says the company is changing tack. . . 

Omicron spread causing staff shortages in poultry industry – Maja Burry:

The poultry industry is reporting staff shortages of 45 percent at some Auckland plants as Covid-19 cases continue to rise.

New Zealanders consume about 125 million chickens each year – but the strain on processing capacity is forcing the industry to revise the number of chicks being hatched to help ensure farms do not become overwhelmed.

Poultry Industry Association executive director Michael Brooks said prior to the Omicron outbreak its members had already been struggling with staff shortages of about 10 to 15 percent, with the usual supply of migrant workers and backpackers cut off.

“I’m now hearing as a result of Covid that you’ve got some plants where they’re [experiencing] 45 percent loss of staff, so they are really working hard.” . . 

Shearing helped Adkins be cut above :

Tom Adkins finds it “mind-boggling” he will be footing it with the country’s best young farmers, after winning the regional competition.

The 23-year-old Upper Waitaki Young Farmers chairman competed in the Aorangi FMG Young Farmer of the Year in Fairlie on February 26 and in February 27.

It was his first year competing at the regional level, and he found it “very challenging”.

“I’d been up to watch the grand final, and been to districts before, so I’d seen the polar opposites … thankfully it was a bit closer to district level than grand final,” Mr Adkins said. . . 

The giant puddle that could power New Zealand – Jill Herron:

It has been described as a “game changer” that would see fossil fuels disappear from our electricity generation.  Lake Onslow in Central Otago is proposed to be NZ’s Battery – but little is known about the place itself. Jill Herron reports.

Lake Onslow is man-made and started life as the delightfully-named ‘Dismal Swamp’. Bleak, windswept and utterly beautiful, it lies like a giant puddle in a depression high in the north-west Lammerlaw Ranges, near Roxburgh.

It’s an empty-feeling place, mostly made up of sky. Aside from a tiny breeze whispering through the tussock, the valley was quiet the day Newsroom visited the lake. The only sounds were distant honking geese and occasional growl of a boat motor, briefly propelling fishermen across the water to a prime spot, before falling silent again.

The lake is a unique and cherished brown trout fishery, set in a series of real-life Grahame Sydney paintings. . . 

Last-gasp tenure review plan panned as inadequate – David Williams:

The controversial tenure review process is about to end – will a Crown pastoral lease in Otago sneak through? David Williams reports

It could be the last.

A preliminary proposal to end the Lowburn Valley Crown pastoral lease suggests the freeholding of 44 percent of the 5814-hectare property, located in remote and steep country in Central Otago, between Lake Dunstan and Cardrona Valley.

The deal is racing to reach the “substantive” stage before a Bill before Parliament is enacted, closing the door on tenure review – a controversial process which ends pastoral leases through rights-acknowledging payments and dividing land into protected and freeholded portions. . . 

Cash back offer provides farmers with a ‘space for survival’ :

Safer Farms is reinforcing the value of crush protection devices (CPDs) on quad bikes and urging farmers to take advantage of a cash back offer.

Quad bikes contribute significantly to on farm fatalities. A CPD is specially designed to reduce the chance of serious injury or death in the event of a roll over.

Safer Farms is today launching ‘Control the Roll’ — a new campaign to raise awareness for the lifesaving cash back initiative currently available via ACC. A CPD creates a gap when it rolls over and meets the ground, taking the impact of the bike and keeping it off the operator laying underneath it. This increases the chance of a positive outcome for the operator in the event the quad bike rolls over.

The ACC cash back offer allows farmers to receive $180 (plus GST) cash back on up to two devices, including the Quadbar, Quadbar Flexi, and ATV Lifeguard CPDs. . . 


Farmer confidence at low ebb

10/03/2022

Farmer confidence in Federated Farmers’ January survey was the at the lowest ebb since the biannual surveys began in 2009:

. . . Of responses from nearly 1000 farmers from around the country, a net 7.8 percent considered current economic conditions to be good, a 10.1 point decline from the July 2021 Federated Farmers Farm Confidence Survey, when 17.9 percent considered conditions to be good.

Looking forward, a net 64 percent of farmers believed general economic conditions would worsen over the next 12 months, a 25-point deterioration from the 39 percent in the July survey. Sentiment about general economic conditions is at the lowest level since the Feds surveys began in July 2009, surpassing the previous low in July 2020

“The results are even more disturbing when you consider farmers were answering the survey before the surge of Omicron cases in New Zealand and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both of which will weigh on economic growth,” Feds President and economics spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said. 

The Russian invasion will hit food production and that will boost prices but it will also hit the supply of fuel and fertiliser, the prices of which have already had steep price rises in the last few months.

While a net 61.1% of farmers reported making a profit, a 5.5-point increase on July 2021, a net 11.2% expected their profitability would decline in the year ahead, 16 points down on six months earlier when a net 4.4% expected profitability would improve.

“We’re getting strong returns on meat and dairy right now thanks to high global demand and food security concerns but clearly farmers are seeing a lot of that revenue going right back out again with higher fuel and fertilizer prices, rising labour costs, and the hot inflation that is affecting every other New Zealander,” Andrew said.

The survey showed a net 52.7 percent of respondents expected their spending to increase over the next 12 months (up from 32.6% six months ago) “but this will be due to higher expected input costs rather than farmers feeling confident to spend and invest”.

That is spending for business as usual, not for anything that will improve production, nor for environmental improvement and enhancement.

A net 1.8% of respondents expected their production to increase over the year ahead, a 13.4-point drop from July 2021 when a net 15.3% expected it to increase.

“This finding is another substantial drop and it was before February’s heavy and unseasonable rain, which caused a lot of damage and loss for many arable farmers,” Andrew said.

Some traditionally summer dry areas have already had close to their annual average rainfall.

Last year’s survey pinpointed the sector’s struggle to fill workforce gaps as a huge issue, with nearly half of respondents stating it was harder to recruit skilled and motivated staff. January’s result shows negligible improvement, with just a 0.2-point decrease on that finding.

Unemployment is down to the unemployable, even though the number of people on JobSeeker benefits has been increasing.

Farmers struggle to employ locals and closed borders have kept out experienced farm workers, shearers and back packers who usually fill jobs on farms and orchards.

“We should all be pleased unemployment levels are so low in New Zealand given assaults on our economy from all sides, but this dire farm recruitment situation underlines why Federated Farmers continues to advocate to government for additional workers – especially in dairy – to cross our borders.”

Asked to list their greatest concerns, those farmers who completed the January survey chose climate change policy and ETS (18.7% of respondents), followed by regulation and compliance costs (13.1%), and freshwater policy (9.5%). This result is unchanged from the July 2021 survey.

There is a very real fear that the Paris Accord’s stipulation that climate change mitigation shouldn’t come at the expense of food production will be ignored.

Farmers are also concerned that the anti-farmer, and anti-dairy in particular, lobby will lead to policies that are political and bureaucratic rather than scientific.

“I suspect the global economy will be right up there if the survey were done right now,” Andrew said.

The three highest priorities respondent farmers wanted the Government to address were the economy and business environment (15.0%), fiscal policy (12.1%) and regulation and compliance costs (11.7%). This compares to the July 2021 survey when the top three priorities were regulation and compliance costs (14.0%), economy and business environment (13.1%), and supporting agriculture and exporters (10.4%).

When prices for most primary produce are at least good, and for milk, the highest ever, the outlook for farming ought to be bright.

But global supply chain uncertainties, inflation, and the threat of climate change policies are compounded by Covid-19 in undermining confidence.


MoH wrong – again

02/03/2022

Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, has admitted that  Covid-19 testing wasn’t keeping up last week:

Speaking at the 1pm update this afternoon, Dr Bloomfield made an apology over delays to people receiving their test results last week.

In January, the government said PCR testing capacity had been increased to 58,000 tests per day, and up to 77,600 per day with surge capacity for up to seven days.

However, as testing centres complained last week, higher test positivity rates meant batch-testing was becoming unfeasible. Test samples were typically pooled in groups of up to eight or 10 earlier in the outbreak, but a positive test in a batch would mean each would need to be retested individually.

Dr Bloomfield said that prior to 7 February, none of the laboratories had ever exceeded 5 percent test positivity, but the swift increase in positive Omicron cases had affected that. Labs also had other difficulties including vacancies in roles, and sickness because some lab workers contracted the virus.

Dr Bloomfield said this led to a backlog, particularly in Auckland, and the Ministry of Health was not quick enough in responding. He said some people may still be waiting for results from tests taken last Wednesday.

“Once the samples were in the lab it’s hard to take them out and redistribute them, so we still had capacity across the network but we didn’t have the opportunity to redistribute them and probably if we’d started to do that a day or two earlier, then we may still have had a backlog but perhaps not such a big one.”

National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said Dr Bloomfield and the ministry had misled the public, and it was not the first time.

“It should not take an intrepid journalist from Newsroom chasing and chasing and chasing for more than a week to actually find out from the Ministry of Health that our testing capability is not what they said it was.

“Everyone has suspected this, you’ve had multiple experts from the laboratory and from the testing community on the record saying that the system could not cope with the numbers that the ministry said it would.” . . .

They’ve had months to learn from what happened in other countries and been warning us for nearly as long to be prepared for the Omicron wave that was coming but they weren’t ready themselves.

It’s bad enough to get this wrong, it’s worse that they’ve got it wrong again and again and again.

Go back more than three years for the debacle over measles vaccinations, then the many shortcomings in the Covid response – the shortage of PPE when health workers were saying they didn’t have enough and the shortage of flu vaccine in 2020 when again health workers were warning of problems.

We can probably blame both the government and the Ministry for the slow roll out of vaccinations and preventing the importation of rapid antigen tests (RATs); and then there was the consolidation requisitioning of supplies from businesses when they were belatedly permitted to get their own; the control freakery over who were critical workers who could get RATs – which didn’t include teachers even though they were mandated to be vaccinated; the even more belated permission for retail sales of RATs and now the testing debacle when the wave they warned us about is only just gathering strength.

People have been sitting at home waiting for test results before they can go back to work while the businesses that employ them have been forced to work short-staffed or close and service providers like resthomes and hospitals have been operating short-staffed.

This simply isn’t good enough – again.

But we can’t have any confidence that anything will be learned from yet another shortcoming when nothing has been learned from past ones and no-one will be held accountable – again.


Rural round-up

01/03/2022

Guilt trees destroying farming – Peter Andrew:

The potential loss of local stations such as Huiarua, Matanui and sadly many other properties to the carbon pine forest bandwagon are an absolute disgrace and embarrassment to us as human beings/farmers. The pioneers who developed and farmed this land would be spinning in their graves if they knew we were letting this happen.

This farmland is top-performing country and one of the best places to grow grass in this country. There is no better indicator of the quality of the land and its productive capability than when in 2001 Huiarua was announced winner of the Gisborne Wairoa “Farmer of the Year” competition.

This long-term loss of the productive use of the land is in complete conflict with our core role of being kaitiaki (caretakers) for our district for our children. Aren’t we meant to leave this place more productive than we found it, not destroy the opportunity for future generations to use the land?

If we don’t care about the future of this place anymore, how we leave it for our children, we may as well let the weeds go and throw rubbish out the car window! . . 

Farmers urged to plan for processing disruptions :

The Farm to Processor Animal Welfare Forum is urging farmers to plan ahead for disruption at processors due to COVID-19.

Forum chair Dr Lindsay Burton said it was critical that farmers book space at meat processors well in advance and be prepared to potentially hold stock on farm for longer.

“We have seen overseas the disruption that Omicron can cause to supply chains – particularly meat processing. It is important that farmers talk to their stock agents, processors and transporters if they aren’t already, and have a plan for what they would do if they need to hold onto stock for longer.

“Make sure you consider this in your feed planning and talk to your levy body or a farm adviser if you need support.” . . .

Omicron phase three: Concern for vulnerable rural communities :

There are fears the phase three Omicron response will see already-stretched rural health services in crisis as they try to care for increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients at home.

Questions are being asked about what happens when sole-charge GPs are forced to shut their doors if required to isolate themselves.

It was not uncommon for rural communities to be serviced by a single doctor and nurse.

A fortnight ago, there was no Covid-19 detected in the Southern District Health Board. . .

Honours in the dairy – Karen Trebilcock:

Working on a dairy farm is not what Paige Harris thought she would be doing after university but now it’s exactly where she wants to be.

Milking 550 cows on 310 hectares near Balfour in northern Southland, the 24-year-old says she is still only “scratching the surface” of dairying.

“All my friends and family were saying ‘what are you doing milking cows with a first-class honours degree’ but if I really want to connect with farmers, I need to understand the role and the only way to do that is by milking.

“You need a lot of tools in the toolbox to really achieve at dairying.” . . 

Vertical farming rising to tackle global food crisis :

The world is consuming more food than it is producing. With the global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, a global food crisis is fast approaching.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report estimated that on average, 768 million people faced world hunger globally in 2020. The high cost of fresh, healthy produce, combined with high income inequality, means that many cannot afford a healthy diet.

This is especially prevalent in Aotearoa, with almost 40 percent of New Zealand households saying they face food insecurity in the last New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, conducted back in 2008/2009.

A company that is answering the call to this crisis is Intelligent Growth Solutions Limited (IGS). IGS is an Edinburgh-based company that is developing vertical farming systems that may become a common sight in New Zealand in the future. . . 

Plant-based ‘meat’ could be off the table – Maeve Bannister:

Plant-based food manufacturers may have to change the way they label products if recommendations from a new report are taken on by the federal government. 

A Senate inquiry into definitions of meat and other animal products – initiated by the National Party – recommends the government implement mandatory food labelling requirements.

It also recommends a far-reaching review of Australia’s food standards regulator. 

Nationals Senator Susan McDonald says more regulation is needed as consumers are confused by plant products featuring names like ‘chicken’, ‘beef’ or ‘prawns’.  . . 


Rural round-up

24/02/2022

Emissions pricing could put billion dollar hit on earnings but no hit on emissions – Andrew Hoggard:

In discussions on He Waka Eke Noa proposals with farmers I’m often asked “how does this all square with the Paris Agreement, and the multiple mentions the text of the Agreement makes on needing to make emissions reductions but not at the cost of food production?”.

It’s a valid question. The Paris Agreement is crystal clear on this point, with the preamble “Recognizing the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger…” and article 2 committing signatories to climate adaptation and emissions mitigation “… In a manner that does not threaten food production”.

As we know, New Zealand agriculture has world-leading greenhouse gas footprints. If we reduce our production to meet emissions targets, supply in the world market will initially decrease but demand will not. The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated the world’s farmers will need to increase food production by 70% by 2050 if we are to adequately feed growing populations. Global consumers are not going to stop wanting what New Zealand farmers are producing.

The price will therefore likely rise in response to a decrease in New Zealand output, encouraging other countries to supply more as it will now be profitable for them to do so. If they have a higher emissions footprint per kilo of product, then world emissions will go up not down. This is a poor outcome for all, global consumers, the New Zealand economy and the atmosphere. . .

Carbon farming is back in the melting pot – Keith Woodford:

There is considerable evidence that the Government plans to change the carbon-farming rules and to do so in the coming months. The big risk is that unintended consequences will dominate over intended consequences.

Forestry Minister Stuart Nash has made it clear that he does not like the idea of permanent exotic forests.  In an opinion piece published in the Herald on 1 February of this year, he stated there are 1.2 million hectares of marginal pastoral lands that should be planted only in native species. He says that there is another 1.2 million hectares that is also unsuitable for pastoral farming but that is suitable for production forestry.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor states his opinion somewhat differently. On January 26 he was reported in the Herald as saying that he too disagrees with permanent exotic forests, but that it is up to famers not to sell their farms to people planning to plant forests. Instead, they should sell to those who will farm the land.  Well, my experience is that this is not how markets work. . . 

China’s Covid-zero policy forces some NZ businesses to suspend exports – Maja Burry :

A small number of New Zealand food businesses have had to suspend exports destined for China – after positive Covid-19 cases were detected amongst staff.

Despite the risk of catching the coronavirus from food being considered highly unlikely, as part of China’s Covid-19 zero policy food producers who experience positive cases at their sites are expected to halt shipments to the country.

In a 2021 briefing providing guidance to exporters, the Ministry for Primary Industries said China was applying these measures to all imported cold chain food products, including fruit, vegetables and meat.

MPI market access director Steve Ainsworth said so far during the Omicron outbreak a small number of workers in the supply chain had tested positive for the virus, with infection acquired in the community and outside worksites. . .

Hunters targeting feral goats in order to deal with deer problem in Northland forest :

In order to control the wild deer issue plaguing Northland’s Russell Forest, professional hunters are culling feral goats who have been getting in the way.

A small herd of about 40 sika deer in the forest has been designated as top priority for eradication by Northland Regional Council because they can spread tuberculosis and kauri dieback.

But chairperson of the council’s Biosecurity and Biodiversity Working Party Jack Craw said wild goats were getting in the way of the eradication programme.

“A sika DNA survey was undertaken in May last year across sika habitat to enable costs for an eradication to be assessed and techniques to be reviewed in anticipation of a looming eradication project this year. . . 

Jobs and kiwifruit ripe for the picking as industry calls out for workers – Vanessa Phillips:

The top of the south’s upcoming kiwifruit harvest looks set to be a bumper one, with expectations it will exceed the $71 million generated last year.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Colin Bond said this year’s harvest in the Nelson region looked positive, with good volumes and good quality fruit.

Nationally, the kiwifruit harvest kicked off last week with a new red variety, RubyRed, being picked in the Bay of Plenty. However, to Bond’s knowledge, RubyRed was not being grown in the Nelson region, where gold and green kiwifruit would start being harvested from March, he said.

There are about 125 kiwifruit growers in the Nelson region. . . 

Meat-eating extends human life expectancy worldwide -Michele Ann Nardelli :

Has eating meat become unfairly demonized as bad for your health? That’s the question a global, multidisciplinary team of researchers has been studying and the results are in—eating meat still offers important benefits for overall human health and life expectancy.

Study author, University of Adelaide researcher in biomedicine Dr. Wenpeng You, says humans have evolved and thrived over millions of years because of their significant consumption of .

“We wanted to look more closely at research that has thrown a negative spotlight on meat consumption in the human diet,” Dr. You says.

“Looking only at correlations of meat consumption with people’s health or  within a particular group, and or, a particular region or country, can lead to complex and misleading conclusions. . . 


Time to free the RATs

24/02/2022

Sir Ian Taylor is urging the government to allow businesses to distribute and sell rapid antigen tests (RATs):

Businessman Sir Ian Taylor says the government should let the private sector take control of the supply and distribution of rapid antigen tests to avoid catastrophic impacts for business and the wider economy.

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are proving hard to come by for many of the country’s workers, as many employers struggle to access a supply of RATs to monitor the Covid status of their employees.

A recent study by online accounting firm MYOB found just 10 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses have been able to access RATs. Currently, the government controls the supply and distribution of the tests for workers deemed essential.

Businesses are now permitted to purchase or use their own private supplies of RATs, however this is proving problematic for most who are unable to afford the bulk orders required by approved suppliers.

Taylor told the Herald the government’s lack of supply of RATs to businesses deemed non-essential had left a giant hole as small and medium-sized businesses – which make up 90 per cent of the country’s businesses – were for the most part unable to order tests.

Large organisations such as supermarket operator Foodstuffs have ordered millions of rapid antigen tests and want to be able to sell them to businesses needing smaller quantities, however this is not permitted under current Ministry of Health mandates.

The owner of Pak’nSave, New World and Four Square has committed to supplying RATs to more than 250 local businesses at cost price. It is expecting a shipment from China early next month but needs government clearance to distribute them.

Foodstuffs also wants to be able to sell RATs to the public. . . 

Testing stations are handing out RATs because they are overwhelmed, why on earth wouldn’t the government get over its control freakery and let businesses distribute and sell them?

Taylor, who runs Dunedin business Animation Research, which develops 3D graphics for major sports events, said he could not understand why the government did not want to allow businesses to use their expertise to make the tests readily accessible.

He said his own business would like to be able to buy a small quantity of RATs as needed, but he was concerned about the government’s inability to work collaboratively with business to make test available for all.

Lots of businesses and individuals would like to buy the tests if they could.

“This isn’t business versus government. This is a huge [disruption] happening to the country, and you need all of the resources you can. Government agencies are just not equipped to do it,” Taylor told the Herald.

“What I’ve seen at Ministry of Health level borders on incompetent, and no one is taking advice that in any way shifts their thinking.”

Taylor said the lack of any desire to collaborate with the private sector would inevitably hold back the economic recovery.

He said government knew little about running businesses, which was having serious ramifications for those trying to operate under current mandates.

National has launched a petition to change the policy:

National is launching a campaign to demand that the Government allow pharmacies and supermarkets to sell rapid antigen tests, Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“Rapid antigen tests are available from supermarkets and pharmacies in almost every other developed country, but not in New Zealand.

“Testing centres are being overwhelmed, with people who just want to do the right thing having to wait in queues for hours and then up to seven days for the results. It’s not good enough.

“The Government needs to allow pharmacies and supermarkets to sell them, immediately legalise every rapid test available in Australia, stop confiscating private stocks, and fix the Close Contact Exemption Scheme so that every business and every school is eligible.

“Rapid tests should be widely available right now, so people worried about whether or not they have Covid can easily pick up a pack from a pharmacy or supermarket and test themselves.

“This is about personal responsibility, which is a foreign concept to this controlling Labour Government, but something that Kiwis – and National – strongly believe in.

“The Government dropped the ball on rapid testing. National has been calling for rapid antigen tests to be added to our testing toolbox for a year now.

“Rather than listen to us, Labour banned rapid tests for most of 2021. Then after belatedly allowing some companies to import them in November 2021, it confiscated tests imported by those companies to cover up their own incompetence at not ordering enough, early enough.

“New Zealanders are crying out for rapid tests. We’re asking Kiwis to sign our petition and demand the Government makes the tests available in supermarkets and pharmacies now.”

You can sign the petition here

 


Unprepared again

23/02/2022

The Omicron surge is only just starting and already testing stations are overwhelmed with people waiting hours to be tested.

In spite of assertions to the contrary, the health system was unprepared again:

Testing laboratories face potential staff burnout and delays to cancer diagnoses if a surge in demand for Covid-19 tests does not drop off, the Government has been warned.

Questions have also been raised about why labs are already under such strain well below New Zealand’s stated maximum testing capacity, with the Opposition accusing the Government of using misleading figures to overstate the state of play.

In late January, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall announced the Government had increased the nationwide capacity for Covid PCR tests “from a maximum of 39,000 tests a day to a baseline of 58,000 tests”.

While the rolling seven-day testing average is 28,567 – less than half of that “baseline” – the Ministry of Health has warned of “exceptional demand” on testing laboratories, with some people in Auckland and Waikato reporting waits of up to five days for a Covid result.

The gap between the stated capacity and the real-time processing ability is largely due to the fact that the higher number relies on being able to “pool” tests: running samples in batches and individually re-testing any with a positive result, something which is only possible with a relatively low number of Covid cases in the community.

Terry Taylor, the president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, told Newsroom that laboratories in Auckland had stopped pooling Covid swabs early last week, and others were set to follow.

“Even though it seems a bit of an oxymoron, our capacity actually drops as the surge increases…we just do not have the resources, the staffing, the consumables to actually be able to maintain anything more than around about that 25 to 30-odd thousand.”

Taylor was unsure where the 58,000 figure had come from, as the institute had not been approached by the Government about it.

“I am a little bit frustrated, in a way, that figures that were not helpful have been bandied around – you can imagine what it’s like for the workforce on the ground when they hear what I would call just unreasonable expectations put on them, to do that sort of level of work for any period of time.”

Taylor said the surge in demand for PCR tests affected the ability of labs to process the 200,000 non-Covid tests they usually performed every day; lab tests were used for almost all cancer diagnoses, as well as monitoring autoimmune diseases and other conditions. . . 

We get told if people die from Covid-19 (including those who die with the disease rather than of it); but we might never know how many people will have treatment delayed and the impact of that on their health, well being and lives.

This situation wouldn’t be nearly as dire if the government stupidity hadn’t restricted the supply of rapid antigen tests (RATs):

National Party Covid response spokesman Chris Bishop told Newsroom the Government had been “using misleading figures to give an appearance of greater capacity than actually exists”, and needed to legalise the sale of RATS over the counter as well as contracting Rako Science to boost PCR testing capacity.

“A lot of people turning up for PCR tests are just people a bit worried about having Covid. The easy way to triage them is to let them take care of their own health through rapid tests from pharmacies – reserve PCR capacity for people who actually need it.” . .

Trusting us to take care of ourselves is a foreign concept to this government and its control freakery.

Another sign of a health system unprepared for the pandemic is that hospitals across the country were full before the virus started spreading.

The Delta outbreak exposed Andrew Little’s failure to resource ICUs, and now Omicron is exposing his failure to resource general hospital beds, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“Newly released data shows that on 9 February 2022, general hospital ward beds across all hospitals in New Zealand were already at an average of 82 per cent occupancy. This was at a time when there was only 204 community cases and 16 in hospital.

“Whangarei Hospital had 100 per cent occupancy and hospitals in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Hawkes Bay, Palmerston North, Wairau, Waikato and Whanganui, were all at more than 90 per cent occupancy.

“We don’t have enough beds and we also don’t have enough nurses. The same data shows more than 2,000 nursing vacancies across the sector, including 400 vacancies at Auckland hospital alone.

“The combination of full hospitals, not enough nurses, Omicron starting to surge and winter fast approaching is a deadly mix.

“People with Omicron will be pushed out into an unprepared community and people waiting for surgery and cancer treatment will have their procedures cancelled.

“Andrew Little has not prepared the health system. What he has done is spend large on consultants and a health restructure instead of ICU beds and nurses.

“How many lives are going to be affected by Andrew Little’s constant poor decisions?”

He has left the health system unprepared, failing patients and health workers:

Increasing health workforce shortages and strikes lay squarely at the feet of Health Minister Andrew Little, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“Last week, radiation physicists and technicians who manage cancer patients issued strike notices. This week thousands of lab workers and Covid-19 contact tracers have voted to strike.

“Andrew Little is so out of touch with the healthcare workforce that he didn’t even know that 10,000 of them decided to go on strike when asked about it by journalists. He has also failed to deliver the “safe staffing” accord which was promised to nurses last year, to protect them from over working.

“If the Minister was focused on getting nurses into the country and delivering front line health services, instead of ramming through a $486 million health restructure in the middle of a pandemic, many of the workforce shortages and safety issues could have been avoided.

“Data recently released to the National Party show that there are currently 2,200 vacant nursing positions across the country. It’s no wonder that the health workforce is feeling immense pressure.

“He has failed our health workforce, who have worked so hard to keep us safe over the last few years, and has actively undermined them in favour of his dangerous and disruptive health restructure.”

The time and money wasted on restructuring the health system are Little’s responsibility.

The Minister of Immigration has also made the situation worse by not granting residency to overseas health professionals who are already working here and not allowing more health professional to come into the country.

That would be bad enough at the best of times, during a pandemic it is irresponsible and incompetent.

The government keeps telling us that Covid-19 is its focus but just like so many of its other grand proclamations, words aren’t backed up by the necessary action.


Dividing not a winning strategy

22/02/2022

Kerre McIvor sums up so much about what’s wrong with this government:

. . . Prime Minister Ardern told the Breakfast show this morning that her job is to think about the elderly, the immuno-compromised and other vulnerable Kiwis who will be hugely affected by an ongoing Omicron outbreak. 

That’s her job, and that’s her front of mind. Is that really her job now and should that be front of mind? Do we not all have the information we need to look after ourselves? 

If that’s her job she’s not doing it well.

Just one example of failure to look after the elderly is the shortage of resthome staff.

Late last year there were 11 people in Oamaru Hospital waiting for a resthome bed anywhere in the town.

At least one resthome had empty rooms but it didn’t have the staff to care for anymore residents and so could not admit anyone else.

Another example of failure to look after the elderly is a shortage of carers for people in the community.

Two women sharing the care of a man who broke his back are doing the work of three because there’s a shortage of people willing, and able, to do the work.

A major reason for those shortages is the government’s flawed policy that hasn’t allowed the immigrants who are both willing and able to do that work to get into the country, or to give them visas which give them at least medium term security they , and their families, can stay here.

Surely, with the best medical advice indicating that this variant is of the cold and flu variety and severity, can she not get on with looking at some of the many, many other issues that we have in New Zealand rather than micromanaging their health care of a small number of New Zealanders?  

This insistence on it being her job to focus on Covid-19 and its threat to the elderly and vulnerable shows an unacceptable level of control freakery and lack of trust in her Cabinet colleagues that is blinding her to all the other issues in urgent need of attention, and blinding her to the divisiveness she’s fostering, as Christopher Luxon explains:

Today I want to talk to you about Covid, about vaccinations, and about mandates.

But first I want to address the elephant in the room: our increasingly divided society.

I entered politics because I wanted to help create a society where Kiwis can get ahead.

Where if you’re willing to put in an honest day’s work, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

That’s my vision for New Zealand – a society of opportunity.

But what we’re experiencing under Labour is a society divided.

The Prime Minister talks about the team of five million, but actually she leads the most divisive Government in recent memory.

Renters versus landlords. Business owners versus workers. Farmers versus cities. Kiwis at home versus those stuck abroad.

The vaccinated versus the unvaccinated.

Perhaps worst of all are the racist policies that are creating two standards of citizenship, Maori and the rest of us which might be empowering a few at the top of various Iwi but are doing nothing for the people who feature in the worst statistics for crime – as victims and/or perpetrators – education, health and welfare dependency.

What we are seeing outside Parliament, and the reaction to it, is the culmination of underlying issues that have been rumbling along in our communities for some time.

It’s driven by Covid and vaccine mandates, yes, but the frustrations shared by many Kiwis are also driven by a Government that seems to be stalling.

The cost of living is through the roof.

The dream of home ownership is turning into a nightmare.

Long-term benefit dependency is skyrocketing.

Then add to the mix Labour’s approach to Covid, which relies far too heavily on controlling all aspects of everyday life, rather than using tools like rapid antigen tests to manage risk and give Kiwis more personal responsibility.

No wonder Kiwis are frustrated.

While the government must get some credit for some of its initiatives to protect us from Covid-19 in 2020, last year and this year it’s open to more criticism than praise.

Two years ago, when the Prime Minister made the wise decision to put New Zealand into a strict lockdown, we were united in our resolve. We came together to combat Covid-19 and we felt good about it.

What was simple then is messy and complicated two years on.

Many people have had their lives altered by the restrictions used to combat Covid; some losing jobs and livelihoods; others missing out on special times with loved ones; still more of us exhausted and confused by ever-changing rules.

Some would have you believe that the public health response is without fault, while others would deny the very real challenges posed by Omicron, which will result in growing numbers of hospitalisations and illness. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

We must chart a path back to that middle ground that unites us, and not allow ourselves to be divided into warring factions, inextricably and increasingly opposed.

The protest at Parliament includes people who are showing a flagrant disregard for the law – blocking off streets, ignoring rules and abusing Wellingtonians.

This hasn’t been helped by a Prime Minister who is missing in action, and Trevor Mallard who has done nothing but inflame the situation.

However, there are frustrations shared by law-abiding and well-intentioned people up and down the country about the Government’s approach to Covid and its lack of a plan.

This debate should not take place between law-makers and law-breakers on the forecourt of Parliament, while roads are illegally occupied and death threats hang in the air.

However there are urgent issues before our elected representatives that must be confronted.

It is simply not sufficient for the Government to stand to one side while the protest rages, sheeting responsibility to the Police and ignoring the wider debates that fuel it.

Kiwis should be able to sympathise with some of the issues being raised by protesters on Parliament’s grounds without being framed as condoning illegal behaviour or siding with anti-science conspiracy theorists.

Agreeing with some of the frustrations does not mean condoning illegal activity and the anti-social actions of some of the protesters.

The Government’s unwillingness to engage with these issues has amplified division. The dismissal of anyone who questions the Government approach has fed a growing distrust.

New Zealanders have done the right thing.

We got vaccinated in record numbers. We’re getting boosted. We get tested. We’ve downloaded the app; we scan in; we wear our masks. We’ve tolerated being shut off from the rest of the world for two years.

But here we are in February 2022 and there seems no pathway out of ever more restrictions, rules and controls which are driving so much hurt and anger.

The hurt and anger is fueled by inconsistencies and heartless decisions that defy logic and make a lie of the mantra of kindness.

14 year old kids who can’t play rugby outside with their mates because they’re not vaccinated.

Charlotte Bellis being treated better by the Taliban than by her own government.

The daughter stuck in a MIQ hotel despite testing negative, while her mum dies just a few blocks away.

The restaurant trying to make money in the Red setting with fewer than 100 people allowed in at any one time.

The families grappling with ever changing rules.

The business owner trying to get rapid tests so he can keep his staff safe.

The tourism business closing down because there is just no plan for when visitors will be back in New Zealand.

The mum and dad who can’t get a rapid test before visiting grandparents at the local rest home.

And all the others who want to do the responsible thing for their staff, customers, families and themselves but are prevented from accessing RATs.

Overloaded hospital staff who simply don’t see the promised extra ICU beds, or the extra nurses, or any extra investment.

That’s the anger, hurt, and frustration I hear and see every day.

Many of you listening will recognise a description of yourselves there.

If you do, I want to send you a very clear message.

I feel your pain.

I understand it.

And I want you to know, there is a better way under National.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has gone missing in action at precisely the moment the country is looking for leadership.

People don’t want more platitudes from the podium.

They want leadership.

They want to know when, and under what circumstances, vaccine mandates will end and when vaccine passes won’t be required any more.

They want to know when tourists will be able to come to New Zealand once again.

They want to know when gathering limits will be lifted and when events can run again.

They don’t need the exact dates. But they want to know the Government’s got their back and is being proactive, not letting Covid set the agenda by just waiting and seeing.

The Prime Minister did give some indications of a plan yesterday, but it was so vague and we’ve had so many announcements of announcements that it’s hard to have confidence in it.

There is a real momentum for change in the country.

People are fed up.

Now I want to outline what I think the Government should be doing right now to heal the divisions I talked about earlier and to plot a pathway out of the mess we’re in.

Covid is very different in February 2022 to what it was in February 2020.

Back then we had no vaccines, limited testing and no effective treatments.

As scientists are recognising, Covid has transformed from a deadly disease to one that is much less serious.

Omicron is highly infectious, but milder. Covid is now manageable for the vast bulk of people at home.

It isn’t the flu. But it is similar to other infectious diseases in that it can be controlled and managed. And we have highly promising Covid treatments coming soon.

As Dr Bryan Betty of the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners says, “we need to move into a space very rapidly of thinking we’re going to live with this and get back to some sort of normality.”

There are some in our community who are still in 2020 mode. They are fearful and they want high levels of government control, and zero balancing of public health with wider societal goals.

I understand this perspective, and I acknowledge that the change from full protection to risk management will be a hard transition for some. Some may choose to be risk-averse for some time into the future – whether or not the Government requires that of them.

That fear has been fostered by the government. It worked to keep us compliant through lockdowns and to persuade many of the reluctant to get vaccinated but it has long past its use-by date.

Then there are those who say “just let it rip”. I understand their impatience but I’m also alive to the serious consequences this would bring. It’s a recipe for overwhelming our health system. We would probably cope. But Covid would trump everything else – elective surgery and other important procedures would grind to a halt.

There is a third way through this.

That way is to use effective public health measures like vaccination, boosters, testing and treatments, but to start returning normality to people’s lives. To start reducing the rules and restrictions, phasing out the mandates, and easing the divisions that have sprung up in our communities.

That’s where I’m at, and it’s where National is at.

Vaccination has been transformational.

Despite our slow start, New Zealand is now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.

· 95 per cent of New Zealanders aged 12 and above have had two doses.

· Two-thirds of those eligible have had a booster.

· And half of 5–11 year olds have had one dose.

Vaccination and boosters are protecting our hospital system.

It makes a huge difference. Unvaccinated people are much more likely to end up in hospital than those vaccinated, and much more likely to die.

The good news is that New Zealanders have done the right thing. We have got vaccinated. We have got boosted. We’re vaccinating our kids.

Now we’re looking for what’s next.

The next couple of months will be bumpy. We’re on the upward slope of the Omicron curve. Cases will keep rising quickly. There will be families who lose loved ones and individuals who will endure serious illness.

But at some point, cases will peak and then start to come down. That’s been the experience in every other developed country that has grappled with Omicron.

So we need to keep going with getting boosted and getting our kids vaccinated, deploy rapid tests widely, accept that Omicron is here, and get through it.

We don’t need to lockdown. We just need to be sensible.

Once we’re through the peak, and assuming there’s no other dangerous variant on the horizon, we can start to ease the division in our society and get back to something approaching normal life.

Very soon, vaccine mandates will have to come to an end.

It’s a big thing for a government to impose a mandate on someone. By definition, you are pressuring people to do something they don’t want to do by imposing pretty awful consequences if they don’t.

The way I think about it, mandates were justified for a while as a temporary measure as we battled Covid and lifted vaccination rates.

What we need from the Government is an honest conversation and some straight talking over the issue of mandates.

It’s not good enough for the Prime Minister to just shrug her shoulders and say “they’ll go at some point” and not enter into a dialogue over when and how. We deserve more than that.

The mandates were designed for a world in which Delta was the dominant strain.

But Omicron has changed the game.

Under our current system, vaccinated people can go to a café; the unvaccinated can’t. Vaccinated people can go to the gym; the unvaccinated can’t. Vaccinated people can get a haircut; the unvaccinated can’t.

This made sense when vaccination had a big effect on transmission.

But Omicron is just so infectious and busts through vaccination, including boosters.

Vaccination is still definitely worth it for individuals – it makes us far less likely to get seriously ill – but when vaccinated people can get Omicron and spread it, why are we limiting venues to just vaccinated people?

The public health rationale for mandates is much less than it was just a few months ago.

And it doesn’t make you an anti-vaxxer to point this out.

The mandates have caused real hardship and despair: kids denied entry to sports teams or public libraries; good men and women who have lost their jobs because they don’t want to be vaccinated.

We should get rid of mandates progressively and carefully once we are through the peak of Omicron.

We must balance the public health rationale against the massive impact mandates have on individual New Zealanders.

The Government should set out a plan for phasing out mandates. Here are two areas they could start.

The first area where vaccination was made compulsory was border workers. That made a lot of sense when we had an elimination strategy and border worker vaccinations were the tool for keeping Covid out of the community.

It obviously makes much less sense when we have thousands of community cases and as the border reopens to the world. They need to go.

The mandates I find most objectionable are the ones that apply to children taking part in extracurricular sport after school.

They make no sense. They should be gone.

I continue to think that mandates for healthcare workers are reasonable. You want people dealing with Covid in our hospitals to be vaccinated, for example.

Although wouldn’t a negative RAT be just as safe whether or not the staff were vaccinated?

We also need a conversation about the traffic light framework and vaccine passes.

Let’s face it – it was developed on the fly after the alert level framework became redundant, and it is a complex set of rules that are not strictly adhered to.

The system has been an absolute killer for hospitality. These businesses are doing the hard yards right now, and they need Kiwis to have the confidence to go out and support them.

Labour were advised to only apply vaccine passes to high-risk large events and venues.

They were specifically told not to apply them to bars, restaurants and cafes.

They haven’t even followed the official advice.

It’s not the first time this has happened. The health advice was that the whole South Island could have been at green last year, the political decision was to keep us at orange regardless of the financial and human costs.

The Government was told that social cohesion was at risk if vaccine passes were implemented too widely. I think we can definitely agree with that.

After we get through the peak of Omicron we should remove government mandates for businesses to use vaccine passes.

The final thing we should do is aggressively reopen to the world.

The Government has outlined extremely tentative reopening plans.

Kiwis in Australia can come home from the end of February. Kiwis elsewhere have to wait until March. Australians can’t come until July and other visa holders can’t come until October.

This is an absurdly slow timeframe and to make matters worse, everyone coming in will have to isolate for seven days. This will kill any real tourism recovery.

The case for mandatory self-isolation for travellers to New Zealand is not a strong one.

We should quickly move to a rule where people take a test on arrival in New Zealand. If it is positive then they should isolate. If it’s negative, they should be free to go about their business – just like Kiwis do within New Zealand.

We should also speed up the timeframe. The border should be open right now for Kiwis anywhere in the world to return home. Then we should quickly open to tourists and other visa holders too.

One of the worst things about the past couple of years has been the way the Government shut out Kiwi citizens through the lottery of human misery that is MIQ, stirring up resentment from Kiwis both at home and overseas.

That divide will take some time to heal. But we can start by progressively reopening to the world and welcoming Kiwis home.

The protest is illustrative of frustration at Covid, but we also have other challenges – a cost of living crisis, increasing benefit dependency, house prices through the roof, and the sense that it is harder than ever to get ahead.

The country needs new leadership.

Leadership that knows how to get things done and get our Covid toolset in place.

Leadership that isn’t too proud to call it when we get things wrong and admits mistakes.

Leadership that shows up when times are tough, not just in the glory moments.

New Zealand is a fantastic country and we have a great future.

We will get what we deserve, and we deserve the very best – but ultimately that is up to each and every one of us.

If we join together, and celebrate our differences rather than letting them divide us, we really can deliver a better future for all New Zealanders.

Divide and conquer can be a winning strategy but the divisions this government is fostering is creating far more losers than winners.

It would help bridge the divisions if the government had a plan that gave us confidence about an end to mandates and that the Prime Minister had  wider focus than the elderly and vulnerable.

After all we were told that protecting them was one reason for the need for a high vaccination rate and we’ve got that and there are a whole lot more urgent problems that need her attention – and need solutions that bring unity not more division.


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