18 Aug 2021

Minister and primary sector leaders discuss lockdown implications

3:09 pm on 18 August 2021

Ministry for Primary Industries officials and the Agriculture Minister held a meeting with more than 180 primary sector leaders this morning to discuss the alert-level 4 lockdown.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor visits Canterbury to assess damage after days of flooding and heavy rain.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says social distancing could impact processing capacity. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Businesses involved in food and beverage production are allowed to keep operating during alert-level 4. That includes fishers, farmers, orchardists, meat and dairy processing companies, as well as vets and other essential support services.

Much of the forestry sector is not included and will have to wait for a change in alert levels to resume work. Meanwhile, primary produce retailers such as green grocers and butchers can't have customers on site.

MPI's director general Ray Smith said the meeting with industry leaders was productive and they appeared well placed to deal with alert level four settings, as they did last year.

He said given the Delta variant was highly contagious, there was a focus on ensuring the sector can keep its workers safe while still producing food for Kiwis and export.

"I discussed the need for strong Covid-19 safety protocols, including mask use at all times at work, maximising social distancing, regular temperature checks for staff and visitors, use of bubbles for travel to work, avoiding congregating at break times, and the need to maximise safety at all times. "

Smith said MPI was committed to supporting the industry through alert-level 4 and would keep it updated should any changes be required.

"I want to thank the primary sector for, once again, stepping up at what is a challenging time and for showing leadership."

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said social distancing requirements and other safety measures could impact processing capacity, particularly for the meat industry, but these protocols were needed.

"If we are to keep our sectors going, then we we have to adhere to the new requirements to keep out, or to stop the spread of Delta."

"If we do the right thing, straight away, we can get ahead of it and not end up with a prolonged lockdown," he said.

Business as usual for some

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard said work on farms would continue as normal for many - but with the Delta variant more transmissible, farmers needed to follow the rules.

"The hardest part will be the social distancing in some situations. If you're dealing with a difficult carving and the vet needs to come, that's where things get challenging.

"But by-and-large staying at home in August isn't usually an issue for most dairy farmers. We hardly ever leave, so we just need to carry on with our work.

Hoggard said during the last level 4 lockdown a big challenge for farmers was having the kids at home unable to do school work due to patchy internet.

"Last time we had a lot of people struggling big time with being able to do basics, speed certainly decreased.

"We were actually intending to put out a rural connectivity survey this week, but have delayed that, so yeah it will be a bit of a challenge, particularly if you've got older kids trying to do online lessons.

"I know with the speed of this lockdown coming about our kids school hasn't had a chance to put anything in place so my daughters lesson today was how to calve a cow."

He said farmers needed to remember to take it easy and not put to much pressure on themselves.

Rural Support Trust urges support

The Rural Support Trust is reminding farmers to chat to their mates and family if they're feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the lockdown.

Chairperson Neil Bateup said it was simple follow the rules and look after one and other.

He said farmers were resilient and many were used to being isolated, but being in touch with others is really important.

"It's absolutely vital you stay in contact with your mates, one of the five ways to well-being is to connect and I think it's probably one of the key ones.

"So it's really important you talk to your mates, see how they're getting on, just support one and other," Bateup said.

The Rural Support Trust won't be doing on farm visits unless essential but it's phone line is always open - you can call on 0800 787 254.

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