If don’t look can’t learn

08/03/2021

National is calling for an investigation into the Valentine’s Day Covid-19 cluster:

The National Party is calling for an inquiry into the Valentine’s Day cluster to see where our response went wrong, and what lessons we can learn.

The scope of the inquiry would include:

  • The performance of contract tracing
  • Communication of public health messaging
  • Whether the testing regime met expectations
  • If saliva or antigen testing should be used more fully
  • The legality of orders issued around testing and self-isolation

The contact tracing was well short of the 80% benchmark recommended by then medical researcher, now MP Dr Ayesha Verrall last year.

Communication was confused.

A lot of tests were done but we don’t know if the regime met expectations.

Other countries and private businesses here are using saliva tests. We need to know if more could and should be used here.

That Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield issued a section 70 health order on isolation and testing for contacts and casual contacts of the February cluster on Friday raises questions about the legality of requirements before that.

“National thought the call to go out of Level 3 in February was bold and ambitious. At the time we didn’t know the source of the original case, there were two new community cases that day and not all of the high school students had been tested,” Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says.

“It has since resulted in a week long lockdown for Auckland. These lockdowns are costing the economy half a billion dollars each week. It’s the reason this yo-yoing in and out of lockdown must be avoided.

“This week we’ve found out that our contact tracing isn’t the ‘gold standard’ the Government would have us think. We haven’t met critical measures in the latest two outbreaks, and all locations of interest haven’t been disclosed to the public.”

Ms Collins says it is clear public health messaging needs to be improved.

“This week a young woman was vilified by the Prime Minister and her Government for following the advice she received. This has highlighted the lack of urgency shown by the Ministry of Health to follow up on unanswered texts or calls.

There are reports that the young man who went to the gym had been told he didn’t have to self-isolate after his test too.

“How the domestic border is managed needs improvement too. There were long queues of people trying to get back to Auckland last weekend, and late on Friday afternoon students trying to head home from boarding school were blocked from being reunited with their families at the border with no reasonable explanation.

“We should always be aiming to improve our response, so we should have an inquiry into why Auckland had to back into Level 3 less than two weeks after coming out of a lockdown.

“Going into lockdown should be our last resort and that means making sure our response to any community outbreak is comprehensive.

“If anything, this week has shown New Zealand there is a lot we can work on in our response when community cases arise. We should always be aiming to improve, so an inquiry into the Valentine’s Day cluster is appropriate.

Among the improvements needed is a more nuanced response to lockdowns. If Sydney can contain community outbreaks by locking down suburbs but leaving the rest of the city, and the state, free, why can’t a similar approach be taken here? Does the whole of Auckland have to go to Level 3 and the rest of the country  to Level 2 every time there’s community transmission somewhere in the city?

If the government doesn’t take a very serious look at what happened – what went well and what didn’t – it won’t learn and if it doesn’t learn any mistakes made this time could well be made again at huge cost to individuals, families, businesses, events and the country.


Lax and late

04/01/2021

Newshub’s Covid 19 timeline gives the lie to the government’s claim of going hard and early:

. . . January 6: Newshub first reports on the “mystery virus”, when there had been just 59 cases reported. . .

A long list of warning signs and straight warnings from medical experts follows until:

March 26: New Zealand goes into a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, closing most businesses, schools and workplaces. Seventy-eight new cases are confirmed. Lots of people arriving in the country have no plans to isolate.  . .  

The timeline shows that rather than hard and early, the government was lax and late.

Does that matter when Covid-19 has, largely, been stopped at the border and life is as near to normal as it could be with the borders still closed?

If it was only a political slogan it wouldn’t matter.

But if the government believes its own rhetoric and doesn’t accept that it was lax and late and then harsh it does matter.

That would mean it hasn’t learned from its mistakes and the report on our Covid-19 response by Heather Simpson and Brian Roche that was released after parliament rose for the year, showed plenty of mistakes and lessons which need to be learned.

One mistake the report didn’t address was that the lockdown was more than hard, it was harsh. Using the arbitrary essential to determine which businesses could operate rather than allowing those that could operate safely to do so.

That distinction did a lot more damage to too many businesses at a high human and financial cost.

Another problem with harsh rather than hard was delays to diagnosis and treatment of other health problems.

Closing all hospitals to all but those in dire need could have been excused at first. There was no rule book and overseas experience showed the very real risk of hospitals becoming overrun.

However, once it was obvious that case numbers had peaked and were declining with no untoward pressure on the health system, why couldn’t some hospitals have been directed to deal with Covid-19 cases and the others left to treat other patients?

I know of two people whose diagnosis of cancer wasn’t made because their symptoms weren’t considered urgent enough for appointments during the lockdown and who later died. It is possible that might have been the outcome even had they been diagnosed earlier, but whether or not that was the case for them, delayed diagnosis for a variety of ailments will have led to worse outcomes in terms of both quality and length of lives.

One of those was a friend who broke her wrist just before lockdown. It was set in plaster but the cast was too loose. She wasn’t able to get a replacement during lockdown, endured months of pain and incapacity and finally had surgery in December when the wrist had to be rebroken. She is now now just halfway through 10 weeks in plaster.

Has the government learned from its mistakes?

The continuation of the arbitrary essential  rather than safe for which businesses could operate and determination that hospitals were closed for all but absolute emergencies when Auckland went back into lockdown shows they hadn’t learned by then.

They say they’ve addressed, or are addressing, the issues raised in the Simpson Roche report that was completed after that. But have they?

We can be grateful that the lockdowns worked, that there is no community transmission of Covid-19 and we are able to live as normal lives as possible with the borders closed.

But that gratitude shouldn’t blind us to the fact that our freedom owes a lot to luck rather than good management.

With the new more virulent strain of the disease in MIQ at the border, it is even more important that the government  ensures everything possible that can be done is being done to make sure it stays there.


Rural round-up

26/08/2020

Wonderful wool, our ‘supermaterial’, is at a crossroads – adapt or disappear – Piers Fuller:

Once a stalwart of our economy, the wool sector faces some tough decisions to ensure its survival. Piers Fuller reports.

For those lanolin-soaked old shearers who remember the glory days of the New Zealand wool industry, the collapse of our strong wonder fibre is something of a disaster.

For many modern economists, the writing is on the wall and it is time to face reality and produce something the world wants.

Unfortunately, what the world has wanted in recent decades has been cheap, petroleum-based synthetics. . . 

We are loved again – Nick Loughnan:

In our time of farming, Faith and I have known the ups and downs of affairs – not those that involve other people’s hearts. We’ve been together for 45 years. No, these affairs at their peak were about being needed and valued to the point of privilege, just because of what we do. We’re farmers.

At the start of our career, we certainly belonged to a privileged bunch. Deciding we wanted to own our own farm, but with neither of us having chosen parents who already had one, we had to start from scratch. Yet there were great incentives for us in our early 20s to get the breaks.

Governments had, for decades through different schemes, been developing extensive tracts of marginal land, subdividing these into smaller ‘economic’ units, complete with new dwellings, sheds, yards and fences, and then balloting them off. . . 

Growing demand for antibiotic-free meat – Annette Scott:

A sudden surge in orders for antibiotic-free meat has processors on the hop as they struggle to meet market demand.

Alliance general manager livestock and shareholder services Danny Hailes said the co-operative is desperately seeking farmers to join its Raised Without Antibiotics (RWA) programme.

He said while global markets are generally subdued, there is growing demand for antibiotic-free meat.

“We have one customer, (in) North America, where demand is just growing as customers become increasingly conscious of what they are eating,” he said. . . 

A hiss not a roar

The Covid-19 lockdown has kept international hunters at home and meant a very lean season for their NZ guides, as Annabelle Latz reports.

The stags were roaring, yet not a hunter was to be seen.

Owing to Covid-19 lockdown rules there were no trophy hunters gathering from around New Zealand or abroad to enjoy the roar this year.

Instead, hunting guides were left with empty appointment books, hunters stayed home, and stags remained untouched.

John Royle of Canterbury Tahr Hunter Guide NZ has been guiding for more than 12 years and this was the first time ever he’s been ground to a halt during the roar, his most lucrative season with full appointment books. He has lost potentially three months’ business. . .

Coculture brings environmental and economic benefits

 Research scientists say law changes are required before lucrative new species, which also bring environmental benefits, can be harvested from existing marine farms.

A paper from Niwa’s Jeanie Stenton-Dozey and Jeffrey Ren, Cawthron’s Leo Zamora and independent researcher Philip Heath appears in the latest NZ Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research.

It looks at opportunities for Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA) – also known as coculture. You may also have heard the term polyfarming which was the title for an MFA- supported Smart+Connected Aquaculture forum in Havelock in 2017.

The forum was held to encourage pathways to new added-value products and diversify production into other high value species. . . 

A true picture of our rural lifestyle – Joyce Campbell:

Keeping my big mouth shut is never easy for me, but over the past year I’ve managed not to tell too many folk that we’ve been filming with a team from the BBC for series four of This Farming Life.

It wasn’t a decision that any of us took lightly but I wanted to take the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with the consumers of the food we produce and share the stories of the rural communities we live in.

A slot on BBC2 at prime time, to a UK-wide audience, was worth me taking the time and effort to engage with the wider public.

I’m not going to lie – I was extremely nervous on Tuesday night as the opening titles rolled, but two Rock Rose gin and tonics helped to settle the gut-churning emotions. . . 

 


Why are we waiting?

24/08/2020

The daily 1pm Covid-19 broadcast has just updated us on the number of new cases – eight confirmed and one probable.

Cabinet will have had this information since around 9am.

They ought to have had any other information needed to make the decision on what changes, if any, will be made to alert levels.

Why then are we having to wait until 3pm for that announcement?

Could it be to give more time for speech writers and the Prime Minister’s preparation for what will be another thinly disguised party political broadcast?

Does anyone want to take a bet on how many words will precede the only bit most of us are interested in – whether or not Auckland will be unlocked from alert level 3 and the rest of us from level 2?

Oamaru Rotary was to have opened its popup Bookarama on the day we went to level 2. We can’t open until we’re back at level one. That’s an inconvenience for the volunteers who staff it who can’t make plans until we know if and when we’ll be needed.

There are a lot more people for whom it is far worse than inconvenient.

People can’t hold funerals, weddings and other such functions; some can’t get to family and friends in need because they can’t get into, through or out of Auckland and most seriously for the financial, social and health impacts, jobs and whole businesses are at great risk.

Waiting a few hours more to learn if and when any changes in level will be made won’t make any difference to the outcome, but it would be good to know if there is a far better reason why we’re waiting than allowing preparation for the speech to which many of us don’t want to listen.


Level 2ish

12/05/2020

New Zealand is being permitted to go to Level 2ish at midnight on Wednesday.

Much of the economy will open including restaurants, malls, cinemas, shops, health services, and hairdressers. People will be able to socialise with others and travel around the country, as well as playing team sports.

The following Monday – May 18 – schools and early childhood centres will open.

Finally on Thursday May 21 bars will be allowed to reopen. . .

While gatherings would be allowed they would be limited to ten people, Ardern said – even for weddings or funerals. This has been changed from a limit of 100 last week.

Bookings for restaurants and the like will not be allowed for groups larger than 10.

A time limit of two hours for gatherings is mentioned on the Covid-19 website, but a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office said this was not intended to cover private gatherings.

These rules would be reviewed in another two weeks time on May 25. . .

This still won’t be business as usual, or what usual used to be and National leader Simon Bridges says the focus must now be on economic recovery:

“We need to focus on the other wave coming on us: having dealt with the Covid-19 wave, we now have got to be thinking about the real suffering that comes from 1000 people a day going on the dole and growing,” he said.

“We’ve flattened the curve, we’ve got to make sure we don’t flatten the economy in the process and we get it and jobs up and running.”

As the country faced a looming, deep recession, Bridges said he wanted to ensure that the economic hole gouged out by the pandemic wasn’t deeper than necessary.

“We’ve got some banks and economists saying this could be $100bn in debt – that takes it to over 50 per cent of GDP and we want to make sure that whilst there’s investment going into jobs, there’s not a bunch of other low-priority, untargeted things.

“Because ultimately if there is, that’s $50,000 a household that has to be paid back at $100bn dollars, that’s inevitably more taxes and that’s a legacy of debt on our children and grandchildren.”

Despite hospitality businesses getting the green light to reopen – with restrictions – from Thursday, Bridges acknowledged that many won’t make it through the next month.

“Whether it’s retail or hospitality, from restaurants and cafes through to bars, the costs have risen with the rules and requirements and in fact their revenue may be down, so it is tough for them.” . .

Murray Sherwin, Productivity Commission chair, is also worried about the economic outlook:

The die is cast. We won’t see the official numbers for quite a while, but it is already apparent that New Zealand is headed into the sharpest and deepest recession in 100 years.

We know we will experience unemployment at, and perhaps above, levels not seen since the late 1980s, company failures and large income losses across the economy. Amongst the bits we don’t know are just how deep the emerging recession will prove to be and how long it will last. . .

The policy choices we make and how well we execute them can cushion the downturn, accelerate the recovery and shape the nation that we eventually emerge as.

What we learn from previous recessions is that they carry lasting impacts on firms and employees. The Productivity Commission’s recent inquiry into technology and the future of work showed that workers who lose their jobs can be subject to significant “scarring” even when they get back into work – meaning that they may experience a loss of future earnings over an extended period of time – especially if they are young and with lower skills.

In high-performing economies, a major source of productivity growth comes from workers shifting from low productivity firms to high productivity/high growth firms. For that to happen, and to reduce the risk of long-term disadvantage, workers need easy access to training and upskilling.1 Alongside that, firms need a policy environment that encourages them onto a high productivity path that can support high productivity and high-income jobs.

But the impact of recession is not felt just by workers. We should expect some proportion of firms that are closed during the lockdown phase will not re-open in the future – another form of scarring. With firms, as with workers, a dynamic environment that encourages the movement of labour, capital and other resources from low to high productivity entities is an essential element in a successful future. . . 

That environment is one which reduces regulations that add costs and complexity to business; one that makes it easier to employ the right people and let the wrong ones go; one that values the private sector and encourages it to invest and innovate.

It is not an accident that since 1991 Australia has been riding the longest unbroken phase of economic growth recorded amongst OECD economies – a growth cycle only now being broken as Australia slips into recession like the rest of us. When we review that 30 year growth cycle alongside New Zealand’s experience we see that New Zealand is more vulnerable to economic downturns. Where Australia has ridden though shocks such as the 1997 Asian economic crisis, the GFC and others, suffering a growth slowdown, but avoiding recessions, New Zealand has dropped into recessions. On each occasion, NZ slips perhaps 2% or 3%. And while we may quite quickly get back to a growth path matching (and at times exceeding) Australia’s, we never do well enough, for long enough, to close the gap.

The lesson to take from this is that how well we manage our way through shocks has real and lasting effects. And right now we are hitting the biggest shock in a century. The quality of the policy response – over the next decade or more – will determine the living standards of New Zealanders for at least the next couple of generations. It will determine our capacity to make real choices about income distribution, environmental standards, housing quality, income distribution, the capacity and capability of our health and education systems and our progress towards climate change goals.

Nothing will undermine our capacity to achieve high standards on those fronts more than an underperforming, low productivity economy.

Productivity is the key.

Increasing that will reduce the harm and repair the damage faster.

That will take a government that understands its role is to get the policy environment right, keeps its role to the areas best left to government and allows the private sector to get on with the work that is needed to rebuild the economy.

 


The Alone Rangers

05/05/2020

I think the Alone Rangers have been locked up too long.


Rural round-up

28/04/2020

Farmers must bide their time – Annette Scott:

The probability of a global recession is growing along with the likelihood of reduced consumer spending in all red meat markets.

The covid-19 pandemic has shifted demand for red meat away from food service to eating at home, Beef + Lamb chief economist Andrew Burtt said.

Just how long that will take to reverse will depend on how long it takes people to be comfortable to eat out in restaurants again.

The key for New Zealand across the supply chain will be maintaining integrity, reliability and consistency. . .

Disaster plans made – Toni Williams:

Vicki and Hamish Mee are planning a ‘‘worst case scenario’’ for stock at their Mid Canterbury free-farm piggery.

The Mees run Le Mee Farms and also have a cropping operation.

Their planning follows restrictions during the lockdown period which stop independent butchers from opening, and make any sale of pork limited to supermarket stores, other processors or retailers which were open.

As imported pork was still allowed, the Mees were preparing themselves for a different future market post-lockdown. . .

Backing ‘best fibre in the world’ – Sally Rae:

Long-time wool advocate Craig Smith says his new role as chairman of the National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests is about “championing the cause of wool”.

The council is an association of organisations engaged in the production, testing, merchandising, processing, spinning and weaving of wool and allied fibres.

Mr Smith, who is general manager of Devold Wool Direct, was the first New Zealander to be appointed to the global executive committee of the International Wool Textile Organisation, and he has also been heavily involved with Campaign for Wool, a global project initiated by Prince Charles. . . 

Meat plants back to near normal – Neal Wallace:

Meat processing throughput could be back at close to maximum on Tuesday when the country’s covid-19 response level drops to level three.

Final protocols are still to be confirmed but level three restrictions should enable meat processing to be close to full production, helping address the backlog of stock waiting to be killed, which has blown out to six weeks, Alliance livestock and shareholder services general manager Danny Hailes says.

At level three social distancing between workers drops from 2m, to 1m.

That should allow throughput for sheep to rise from  50% to 90% of plant capacity and beef from 70% to 100%. . . .

Online auction takes off – Annette Scott:

A handshake still carries weight for livestock trading firm Peter Walsh and Associates but with covid-19 it has been forced to change tack.

The lockdown changed that handshake to a tap on a keyboard as the company held to its first Livebid online auction last week. 

“With no saleyard operation we had to find new ways of moving livestock so we said ‘let’s keep it on the farm’,” Peter Walsh said.

With a smart back office team and the latest technology the independent livestock broker came up with Livebid. . .

Full fields, empty fridges – Laura Reiley:

Farmers in the upper Midwest euthanize their baby pigs because the slaughterhouses are backing up or closing, while dairy owners in the region dump thousands of gallons of milk a day. In Salinas, Calif., rows of ripe iceberg, romaine and red-leaf lettuce shrivel in the spring sun, waiting to be plowed back into the earth.

Drone footage shows a 1.5-mile-long line of cars waiting their turn at a drive-through food bank in Miami. In Dallas, schools serve well north of 500,000 meals on each service day, cars rolling slowly past stations of ice chests and insulated bags as food service employees, volunteers and substitute teachers hand milk and meal packets through the windows.

Across the country, an unprecedented disconnect is emerging between where food is produced and the food banks and low-income neighborhoods that desperately need it. American farmers, ranchers, other food producers and poverty advocates have been asking the federal government to help overcome breakdowns in a food distribution system that have led to producers dumping food while Americans go hungry. . .


When politicians and advertisers preach

28/04/2020

If any more advertisers tell me to “be kind” I’m going to throw a brick through the television.

This tweet was posted a couple of weeks ago and stuck with me.

Kindness is one the the values I value. The world would be a much better place if we had a lot more of it.

But the exhortation to be kind from advertisers and politicians induces thoughts in me that are anything but kind.

Why?

I think it’s partly because the lockdown has uncovered my inner contrarian.

Farming is an essential business and I spend a lot of time at home alone in normal circumstances so my day to day life hasn’t altered much. I realise this puts me in much better circumstances than a lot of other people.

But because I can’t go where I want to, when I want to and with whom I want to, I really, really want to.

Strong as the temptation is,  I’m resisting it and doing as I’m told – staying home and as the ads and politicians keep telling me, staying safe.

But I don’t like it and I like being preached at even less, especially by advertisers and politicians.

I am old enough to remember when kindness started at home and the moral and ethical foundation established there was reinforced at school and backed up at Sunday school and church, in the days when most children went there.

I like to think that kindness still starts in most homes, that it’s reinforced at school and while far fewer people are regular church goers these days, they still play a role in moral guidance not by preaching at us, but by teaching and providing good examples through their actions.

Why then do advertisers and politicians feel the need to preach at us?

If they were leading by example I might be inspired to follow.

But when they preach at me, that inner contrarian comes out and rather than feeling positive about the message I start thinking some very unkind thoughts about the messengers.


Rural round-up

26/04/2020

Mental health during a global pandemic:

Farmers are used to adversity. We are used to our livelihoods, and our families effected by forces beyond our control.

We watch as our entire crop is destroyed in a ten-minute storm. We grieve powerless, as disease rips through our herd. And we have seen our food stores burnt to the ground during times of conflict. We watch market prices tank when global production is good, we pray for rain, for markets, for health and for safety. And, on a daily basis we pray for an understanding of who we are and what we do.

Under the pressure of a global pandemic it is suddenly as if the entire world knows a little of what it is to be a farmer. We are perhaps at once the most connected and disconnected as we will ever be, we are a world experiencing fear, failure, grief, anxiety, and hope. And we are experiencing it together and all too often, alone . . 

Rotorua Lakes Council accused of ‘no show’ on SNAs – Felix Desmarais:

Farmers are “disappointed” after Rotorua Lakes Council failed to independently submit on a piece of government policy they say could result in a six percent increase in rates.

But the council says Local Government NZ submitted on its behalf and it does not submit on all proposed policy and legislation changes.

The National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) closed submissions on 14 March. . .

Review of methane contribution a step in the right direction:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has welcomed Climate Change Minister James Shaw’s request to the Climate Change Commission (CCC) to review and provide advice to the Government on New Zealand’s international greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The Climate Change Commission is best placed to ensure there’s consistency between New Zealand’s international and domestic targets, and to provide scientifically-sound, depoliticised advice to the Government.  We support Minister Shaw’s request to the Commission,” says B+LNZ’s Environment Policy Manager Dylan Muggeridge. 

“The Government took a world leading split-gas approach to the Zero Carbon Act and we ask that the Commission consider if New Zealand’s international target should be recommunicated as a split-gas target. “ . . 

Independent grocers ask for flexibility to open in alert level 3 – Indira Stewart:

The government has been asked for flexibility to allow more independent grocers and other food outlets to fully open at level 3, Horticulture New Zealand says.

The lockdown has crippled produce supply to New Zealanders despite supermarkets staying open and many independent growers and grocers say their businesses might not survive the next few weeks.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said the Covid-19 crisis had stopped nearly 30 percent of fresh produce making it to retail shelves. . .

Hunters should be allowed on conservation land:

Hunting restrictions at level 3 should be relaxed even further to allow for hunting on conservation land, National’s Conservation spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.

“It simply doesn’t make any sense that it’s acceptable to hunt on private land but not conservation land.

“Many hunters don’t have access to private land and rely on their local conservation areas to take part.

“ACC data shows that hunting is a safe recreational activity and that those who participate take health and safety seriously. In terms of fatalities hunting is about six times safer than swimming and three and a half times safer than road cycling. . . .

Farm Environment awards recognise value of NZ farmers:

The Covid-19 lockdown has prompted organisers of New Zealand’s most prestigious farm awards to take an innovative approach when recognising this year’s top farmers.

The Ballance Farm Environment Award’s ceremony schedule was interrupted by the country going into lockdown on March 23, after the announcement of only two regions’ winners, Canterbury and East Coast.

“We were determined to keep up the recognition of our other nine regional winners, even if it meant we had to do away with the ceremony and occasion that accompanies it. So we will kick off on April 22 with our first “on line” ceremony, for the Horizons region,” says James Ryan, general manager for award backers the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust. . . 


Lockdown National Anthems

25/04/2020

Cantores Choir united in voice from their individual lockdown bubbles all over the world.


Rural round-up

24/04/2020

Now we know what is important – Craig Wiggins:

What will become important is what has always been important.

Last month I wrote about all the things we could do coming up in the rural calendar and within five days the whole world changed and we were heading into lockdown.

There are no two ways about it, the world has changed and we might never again see the likes of what was deemed important before the covid-19 pandemic.

What seemed to be important in the world we were part of was the ideological lifestyles of the rich and famous or those who found themselves in a position of governance and what their opinions meant.  . . 

Meat plants back to near normal – Neal Wallace:

Meat processing throughput could be back at close to maximum on Tuesday when the country’s covid-19 response level drops to level three.

Final protocols are still to be confirmed but level three restrictions should enable meat processing to be close to full production, helping address the backlog of stock waiting to be killed, which has blown out to six weeks, Alliance livestock and shareholder services general manager Danny Hailes says.

At level three social distancing between workers drops from 2m, to 1m. . .

Pesticide usage in New Zealand well below compliance safety guidance:

A survey released today confirms that the Kiwi diet is safe and that any pesticide residues on food are extremely low, far below recommended safety levels.

The Ministry for Primary Industries released results of the Food Residues Survey Programme which tests for residues in plant-based foods. The survey collected 591 fruit and vegetable samples over two years and shows compliance of greater than 99.9%. The survey tests residues from commonly used agrichemicals: insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides.

“These results are unsurprising,” says Agcarm chief executive, Mark Ross. “Agcarm members work hard to satisfy the stringent requirements set by regulators. They also work with food chain partners to achieve the lowest possible residues in food.” . . .

Survey of rural decision makers 2019 survey out now:

The results of the fourth biennial Survey of Rural Decision Makers, run by scientists at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, have now been released.

More than 3700 people responded to the survey during spring 2019. Respondents include both lifestyle and commercial farmers, foresters, and growers from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

A core set of questions remained similar to previous waves of the survey, to allow researchers to identify trends over time. In addition, new questions were added to reflect emerging issues in the primary sector such as farm-level biosecurity and climate change. . .

A2 Milk sales boost as consumers stock up

Speciality dairy company a2 Milk is getting a windfall boost to sales from the Covid-19 virus.

The company, which mostly sells infant formula, said revenue for the three months to 31 March was higher than expected with strong growth across all key regions, as households stocked up with its products notably in China and Australia.

“This primarily reflected the impact of changes in consumer purchase behaviour arising from the Covid-19 situation and included an increase in pantry stocking of our products particularly via online and reseller channels,” chief executive Geoffrey Babidge said. . .

Remote workers look to crash through grass ceiling – Gregor Heard:

RURAL leaders are hopeful the readjustments to work patterns caused by COVID-19 could lead to more senior level employment and business opportunities in country Australia.

The mainstream business community is now adapting to working from home and using video conferencing for communication, a system already widely used by those based in rural and regional areas to combat issues with isolation.

“In many ways in this current environment those of us that have worked remotely before have a bit of an advantage,” said Wool Producers Australia chief executive Jo Hall, who has split her time between her home at Crookwell, in NSW’s Southern Tablelands, and Wool Producers’ head office in Canberra over the past nine years. . .

 

 


Someone has to ask the questions

24/04/2020

This came in an email last night:

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have left no part of New Zealand untouched.

We see it in our communities, our streets, and our homes. The reality of our situation is present, real and personal to us all, and we are reminded of it on a daily basis.

I’m proud of the way … all Kiwis, have united together in our country’s time of need, by everyone doing their bit in helping to eliminate the virus.

As a team, we are all too aware that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable and at-risk in our communities. We have a duty to be united in our effort for the greater good, but we also have a duty to ensure those that need a strong voice to speak for them have that opportunity.

Every day we receive hundreds of emails and calls from Kiwis in distress. Frustrated at the lack of clarity in the ever-changing information for them, their families, their kids, their friends, their businesses. And chances are you’ll know some of them personally too. They want us to find them answers.

When we ask questions about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we’re thinking of the many frontline staff who have written to us going to work every morning, sacrificing their safety, and in desperate need of that PPE to keep themselves and others safe. So, we want answers for them.

When we ask questions about testing capacity, we’re thinking about the many hundreds who’ve contacted us who live in fear that they’re going to infect the ones they love or care about and couldn’t get a test to allay that fear. So, we want answers for them.

When we ask questions about better contact tracing, we think about the unbelievable sacrifice every Kiwi has made over the past four weeks, and if we don’t have full confidence from where or whom the virus is coming, we risk returning to a higher state of lockdown and greater hardship. We want answers for you.

When we ask questions about the effects on the economy and jobs, we think about the hundreds of thousands of Kiwis employed by small and medium sized businesses which may close, and ultimately lose their jobs, if we don’t get this right. They are the backbone of our economy and they need certainty too.

We’ve got through this well together so far, showing true resilience, grit and determination in the face of great difficulty. However, the fact remains we will still have to ask hard questions about the future health, social, and economic costs of this pandemic.

Some may not like the questions we ask. Some may not like the way we ask them. But we will keep asking them until we get the answers people need and deserve.

I will never forget the personal sacrifice and hardship Kiwis have faced to eliminate COVID-19 from our communities. Everything we say or do will be focused on how we continue to protect our most vulnerable and get New Zealand back on track. You are part of our strength and we welcome your input.

We have faith that with the right approach, New Zealanders and our economy can rebuild successfully after this crisis. We’ve done it before and together we will do it again.

Who said this?

Simon Bridges, Leader of the Opposition.

It is in response to the media pile-on earlier this week, about which Barry Soper says:

…Typical of the social media vacuum, the validity of their claim can never be substantiated. But it’s out there, Bridges is undermined the and media make a meal of it, even if the plate’s empty.

It seems to be forgotten that he’s the Leader of the Opposition and as such is not only entitled but is expected to oppose what the Government is doing.

To suggest that now is not the time for politicking when the fearful nation has been cowed and forced into submission is absurd. We still live in a democracy even though at times it might not seem like it.

Even though Jacinda Ardern may have done a good job preaching from the pulpit every day, she’s not infallible.

And it’s entirely possible, given the storm that’s most certainly brewing, that she could just become the victim of our own success considering she’s forever claiming that we’re all on the same team.

When the government has almost unlimited power, when parliament isn’t sitting and when we’re facing draconian restrictions on what we can do, where we can do it, and with whom we can do it, someone has to ask the questions.

Simon’s doing it, it’s his job to do it and he should keep doing it until we get the right answers.


Right theory, wrong practice

21/04/2020

Yesterday the PM explained the basis for decisions over the lockdown:

Basing our decisions on public health, keeping in mind risk is the best way we can protect both the economy, livelihoods and people’s wellbeing.

That is right in theory but has been wrong in practice.

Had the government been as mindful as it ought to have been about protecting the economy it would have allowed any business which could operate safely to do so.

It would also allow those businesses to move from level four to level three this week and not wait until next Tuesday.

The PM said the extra five days at level four is only two business days.

This statement says a lot about how little she, and her government understand business.

It is true that it is only two business days for Monday to Friday businesses, but a lot of businesses work on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays.

Had level 3 started on Thursday, they would have observed the half-day closure for Anzac Day on Saturday, a wide variety and large number of businesses would have used at least some of the other four and a half days to repair some of the damage the lockdown has done.

Food businesses that can do takeaways, retailers able to do contactless transactions, sole-operators who work weekends . . . would have been at work.

Instead, the costs of the lockdown at level four are being imposed unnecessarily for at least four and a half days longer.

Those costs aren’t just economic. Business failure and increased unemployment come at a growing social and public health cost.

Ray Avery spells out some of those costs:

. . . What Jacinda Adern and Shaun Hendy should be modelling is what is the likely adverse effects of a continued lockdown on our existing appalling health statistics.

Our domestic violence statistics are a national shame and the police and domestic violence groups are seeing a dramatic increase in cases due to the lockdown.

We have the highest teen suicide rates in the developed world.

Every day one in five of our children goes to school hungry.

Every week sixteen people in New Zealand commit suicide.

Every year around 500 of our citizens die of Flu but we have never focused on eliminating the disease.

Based on the Government’s intervention strategies and New Zealand’s known COVID-19 case related mortality rates, this virus will have caused more economic damage, loss of livelihoods, increased suicides, disruption to our education system, inhuman treatment of our elderly and irreversible social changes than actual deaths to date “associated” with the virus.

We need to focus on facts not statistical modelling when it comes to determining the ongoing health and wellbeing of our citizens.

Given the high cost already imposed by the lockdown, no-one wants to risk lowering the level too soon and then having to increase it again.

But if safety is the guide, that risk would be slight, and the gain of four and a half days when so many more businesses could be operating would be worth it.


One week more

20/04/2020

We’ve got another week at level four and will be moving to level three at midnight next Monday.

We’ll be at that level for at least two weeks.


While we wait

20/04/2020

Some thoughts to ponder while we wait to find out if there will be any easing of the lockdown restrictions under which we’re living in an attempt to eliminate Covid-19:


What is govt hiding?

17/04/2020

Why isn’t the government releasing Crown Law advice about the Covid-19 lockdown?

The Government has a duty to New Zealanders to release the legal advice it has received about Police being able to enforce the lockdown rules, National’s Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.

“When an entire country is in lockdown, the case for public interest could not be higher and far outweighs any decision to withhold the advice.

We have never experienced a situation in this country where people’s civil liberties have been eroded so quickly and without clear direction. The public has a right to know the legal advice which allowed this to happen.

“There was huge confusion amongst the public about what the rules are with both the Prime Minister and former Police Commissioner contradicting each other.

The confusion and contradictions undermine confidence.

“Even now with the Section 70 notice from the Ministry of Health it’s important New Zealanders understand what powers the Police have and how those decisions have been made.  

If we’re to keep the rules it’s only fair we know the reasoning behind them.

“Mr Parker arrogantly told the Epidemic Response Committee that if people don’t like the advice being withheld – they can take it to court.

People are getting sick of being locked down. We’re questioning the arbitrary  nature of  some of the restrictions. We need, and deserve, understanding and information, not arrogance.

“The public has been incredibly understanding and compliant during these extraordinary times. They have a right to know how decisions are being made that affect them. The Attorney General should waive legal privilege and release the advice.”

We are being asked to accept unprecedented restrictions on what we can do and where we can do.

People are losing businesses and jobs. Some are having medical diagnosis and treatment delayed. The battle against Covid-19 is being waged at a huge financial and social cost.

The government keeps telling us the lockdown with all the loss of choice and liberty it imposes, is necessary.

It’s only fair to let us know the legal basis for what we’re being expected accept.

Refusal to do so begs the question: what are they hiding?

 


The other costs

16/04/2020

Every day at 1pm Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield updates us on the number of confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19, the number who have recovered and those who have died.

It is impossible to count the other costs:

A leading heart failure specialist is among those concerned that lives could be lost through people failing to seek treatment during the pandemic.

And another fears that a drop in pathology testing could mean cancers and coronary disease go undetected for longer, while cancelling or postponing elective surgery could mean some patients end up in hospital in a much more serious condition. . . 

Delays in diagnosis and treatment can mean much worse outcomes for many diseases and ocnditions.

There are other unseen costs:

University of Auckland Economist Dr Ananish Chaudhuri says the immediate emotional power of people dying with the disease could lead New Zealand into an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown with dire consequences, including more deaths.

Chaudhuri, who is currently Visiting Professor of Public Policy, at Harvard Kennedy School, says people over-estimate the costs of immediate and visible dangers, which clouds judgement and calculations of the unseen costs arising from their reaction.

“Extension of the lockdown would aim to save a more certain number of lives now, for an unknown number of lives we will lose over time due to health and economic impacts.

“Unemployment is not just a number; there are human health and fatality costs. When unemployment goes up the life expectancy of those people goes down. Furthermore, there are devastating consequences for communities from high unemployment – depression, poverty, violence, falling education.

“People have tried to claim that extending the current lockdown is a choice between saving lives and losing money, but it’s not. It’s a choice between losing lives now but losing lives later – and possibly a greater number and a greater variety of otherwise healthy people later.”

Chaudhuri points to research showing that the immediate aftermath of the 911 attacks was an estimated 1500 additional deaths on the road, from people driving rather than flying. It arose because in an environment surrounded by concerns over terrorism, people judged they were more likely to die of terrorism than a traffic accident, or even of the more likely event of respiratory illness or heart attack.

“The problem is that we pay more attention to, and value higher, things happening right in front of us – but we don’t pay attention to, or value, even larger things that happen less visibly or more slowly.”

Chaudhuri says an error is being made by those who differentiate between objectives of suppression, eradication, or mitigation.

“It’s a continuum between doing nothing and doing everything – and there’s different costs along that continuum. The challenge is to correctly perceive and calculate those costs.” Chaudhuri says.

It is not a simple case of the lockdown saving lives and freeing us up endangering them.

Lives will be saved by fewer people contracting Covid-19 because of the lockdown and some will be saved by being able to get treatment that would have been denied them had hospitals been overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases. But other lives will be lost and blighted through delayed diagnosis and treatment, increases in suicide, and the emotional and financial toll of business failures and job losses.

I think it was right to go into lockdown and that, if it wasn’t done sooner, large gatherings should have been stopped earlier.

Friends who were invited to a wedding on March 21st received a message a few days earlier from the couple saying their guests health was more important than their wedding and they were postponing it.

On the advice of friends who are doctors we cancelled a 90th birthday we were to host on the 21st too.

That day the government order went out that no gatherings of more than five people should take place but that was too late for those already taking place, at least one of which has resulted in a cluster of Covid-19.

In supporting the lockdown, I acknowledge that it incurs other substantial costs including lives that will be lost. That is why I support the idea of what’s safe rather than what’s essential as the guide for which businesses can operate.

If an electrician can visit a safely house when all the fuses blow, why can’t s/he work on a new build or renovation?

If supermarkets and dairies can sell their goods safely why not bakeries, butchers and greengrocers?

If greenkeepers can work on golf courses, why can’t a lone operator mow private lawns?

The rules around a change in levels will be announced today.

To reduce the other costs of the lockdown, they must include a change from allowing only essential businesses to operate to allowing any business that can operate safely to do so.

 

 

 


March of the Warbirds

14/04/2020

Difficult and frustrating as the lockdown is, it would be much worse had it happened if the internet wasn’t enabling us to work from home, access entertainment and keep in contact with others.

It’s also enabled people to get together musically from their individual lockdown bases.

A reader emailed introducing me to the BayLynn Youth Band which is comprised of mainly Year 4 to University age young people based in Auckland.

Their musical director, who teaches music at St Peters College, has set them some practice and performance tasks during lockdown. March of the Warbirds is a piece written by their associate music director Bernie Allen who is an 82 year young legend in NZ Music.

 

 


Rural round-up

14/04/2020

Winter is coming – Tom Hunter:

Rabobank provides a regular newsletter to its farming clients and the latest one makes for grim reading.

They’re forecasting a milk payout next season (20/21) of $5.60 per kg. Currently it’s at $7+.

Ouch.

The farmers I talk to don’t accept Rabobank’s analysis. Yet. And Fonterra, Open Country and other dairy companies are still optimistic that next season’s payout will still be well north of $6, even at not at this season’s level. The trouble is that their forecasts have often missed the big swings, notably the $4.30 payout of 2014/15, which came so rapidly after the record $8.40 payout, and I don’t have much confidence in Fonterra in general. . . .

Farmers: “cool” not to be unique. When they started farm environmental improvements, couple were unique – but not any more:

Eastern Southland dairy farmers Chris and Lynsey Stratford fielded a lot of questions on the environmental improvements being made when the property they manage was converted from sheep farming 10 years ago.

“Initially there was a lot of interest from other farmers,” Lynsey said.  “We were unique at the beginning – but not now…and that’s cool.”

That was in Southland – and Lynsey believes there’s been a much greater national understanding by farmers of action leading to big impacts on the environment over the last 10-20 years. . .

 

New Zealand onion growers celebrate multimillion-dollar export success in Indonesia:

New Zealand onion growers are celebrating being able to export their world class crop to Indonesia again.

‘Indonesia has just re-opened its market to New Zealand onions after some clarification was required for the new import rules,’ says Onions New Zealand Chief Executive, James Kuperus.

‘This follows months of negotiations, but with the support of key figures such as Director General Horticulture, Indonesia, Prihasto Setyanto and the Indonesian Ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, the regulations have been clarified and exports have resumed.’ . .

Sheep conference going ahead via virtual technology :

The stage is set for an international sheep conference, thanks to virtual technology.

Called Head Shepherd, the event on April 16 has been organised by neXtgen Agri, whose team usually spent most of its days visiting clients and assisting with breeding programmes both in Australia and New Zealand.

It had come to a “screaming halt” with the Covid-19 lockdown and the team was now providing that support via video and phone calls, founder and agricultural geneticist Dr Mark Ferguson said. . . 

Straight off the tussock, farming at Okuku Pass – Tim Fulton:

Jack’s mother Winifred knew the Latin name for every plant in the garden but Bill Blain did most of the work. Bill came out to New Zealand from London in 1882 on the same ship as the English cricket team, who were heading to Australia for the first ever Ashes series.

He had been working in the tramway stables in London, where at one stage he had been in charge of feeding about 7000 horses, but came out because of his lungs were crook. Despite his apparent poor health, Bill’s first big job in New Zealand was draining the Coldstream swamp for John Macfarlane – and then working a paddock for him at Loburn. He also drove traction engines, and apparently went to the Boer War as a fully qualified steam engine driver – but he had a long, narrow trenching spade which he prized for the rest of his life.

He worked for both the Macfarlanes and Fultons from the moment he arrived in New Zealand. He was with us at Broomfield and then went into a boarding house in Rangiora. . .

Primary sector needs more govt support:

The Government needs to urgently engage with the meat industry to look at ways to allow increased productivity over coming weeks, otherwise there will be a significant animal and farmer welfare issue, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.

“While farmers are an essential business, they are still experiencing significant disruption from COVID-19 and are grappling with the ongoing effects of drought.

“Meat processing plants are an essential service and have taken the appropriate steps to enact social distancing and other precautions for staff, but this has also led to productivity constraints.

“Meat Industry Association Chairman Tim Ritchie told the Epidemic Response Committee there was 75 per cent less venison being processed, 50 per cent less sheep meat and 30 per cent less beef. . . 


Contradictions and confusion still undermining confidence

14/04/2020

A good news story of a wedding under lockdown has highlighted the confusion and contradictions over what is an isn’t essential:

A furore has erupted among the country’s wedding celebrants after a North Shore couple were allowed to tie the knot at their home despite the nationwide lockdown.

Jeff Montgomery, the Registrar-General for Births, Deaths and Marriages, is standing by his decision to let the couple go ahead with their special day, sending an email to all celebrants today stating it is up to them and their clients if they decide to get married during the 4-week lockdown period. . . 

But the Registrar-General emailed celebrants later saying it wasn’t up to him to decide if weddings should go ahead or not.

Weddings have occurred recently, for example when one of the couple is about to pass away, or because of religious requirements.

“It is up to the couple and the celebrant to consider how essential the wedding is and to work within the level 4 rules”.

“It is not the role of the Registrar-General to make decisions about whether or not a ceremony occurs. ‘Permission’ or ‘exemptions’ are not something that I have authority to issue and I do not make judgments on what services may or may not be essential.

“My role is to issue licences where the couple meet the requirements, to register celebrants who are expected to abide by the law, and to register relationships that have been legally solemnised,” he wrote.

That’s quite clear, so who can make decisions about whether or not a ceremony occurs?

In today’s briefing with media, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said weddings could go ahead as long as they abided by social distancing rules.

That seems clear, but what does the Covid-19 website say?

All indoor and outdoor events cannot proceed.

This does not include workplaces of people undertaking essential businesses.

If a wedding celebrant was running an essential business that might be okay but:

These requirements apply to family and social gatherings such as birthdays, funerals, tangi or weddings. These gatherings can not go ahead.

We are asking you only spend time with those who you are in self-isolation with, and keep your distance from all others at all times.

So there we have it – the Registrar-General quite rightly says it’s not up to him to say if a wedding is essential.

The DG of Health says weddings could take place as long as people obeyed social distancing rules.

But the COvid-19 website says weddings can’t take place.

The confusion and contradictions over this provide more grounds for having the guiding rule for what can take place under Level 4 lockdown what’s safe rather than what’s essential.

Providing everyone involved took the proper precautions to maintain social distance and either wash their hands or use sanitiser before and after touching the pen and paper work, it ought to be safe to have a wedding with just the couple, two witnesses who were already in their bubble and a celebrant.

But under the Level 4 rules no weddings are supposed to be taking place.

Changing to safety as the guide rather than essential would not only allow very small wedding ceremonies to take place, it would allow a lot more small businesses to open again.

That could save jobs, and businesses, take pressure over businesses like supermarkets that are open, and get rid of the confusion and contradictions over what is and isn’t essential.


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