Coronavirus: What farmers and growers need to know

More information has been provided on how those working in the agriculture sector will operate during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Primary industries and those who supply them have been deemed an essential service, however will need to follow strict rules to stop the spread of the virus.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been working closely with food producers and other government agencies to ensure safe operations.

"The primary sector from the biggest companies, co-operatives, large orchards, right down to the smallest farms must keep high standards in workplaces for their own safety and others' wellbeing," he says.

MPI has set up a registration system for those businesses which intend to continue to operate during the lockdown.

Scroll down for the latest information and updates.

Key points: 

  • Primary industries, including food and beverage production and processing, is deemed an essential service.
  • Veterinary and animal health/welfare services are essential.
  • Workplaces must follow strict guidelines to avoid the spread of the virus if they continue operating.
  • The collection of farmers' milk and the dairy company operations will be prioritised.
  • The Government has been working with primary sector industries on guidelines.
  • All essential businesses who wish to operate under the Level Four COVID-19 alert must register.
  • Federated Farmers says the sector has a vital role to play in supporting New Zealand during the crisis.

Farmers, growers must register 

MPI has set up a registration system for essential businesses who wish to operate under the level four COVID-19 alert.

Businesses must register with them by 5pm on Friday, March 27.

Following registration, businesses will be asked 11 critical questions about how they intend to stop any spread of COVID-19.

"There are two simple questions you can ask yourself before registering: Do you have five or fewer people (including the owner) working at each farm business site? Can you achieve social distancing measures between staff in your workplace, including travelling, to and from work?"

Click here for more information and to register.

Primary sector businesses can also contact MPI at 0800 00 83 33 or for further details on registering or the registration process.

Farming leader emphasises importance of food producers 

Federated Farmers' president Katie Milne says the agriculture sector has a vital role in helping get New Zealand through the crisis.

"We all know that our food lines have to be kept open and the food supply for the whole nation to get through this comfortably and also to help get the nation back on its feet economically as we pull out of this at the other end," says Milne.

"So everyone needs to take this incredibly seriously and do their best to make sure that if they are an essential industry they look after that privilege and make sure that everyone stays well and safe, and don't be the one that spreads this around."

While it was heartbreaking to see industries in financial strife, Milne says it was a time to unite and stay strong.

"If we all stand together and do our best we can get through the other side."

Farmers' questions answered

O'Connor told Magic Talk's Dominic George that the deeming of primary industries as an essential service was made for New Zealanders and for the export market.

"The restrictions are completely uncharted territory and we all need to do our bit," said O'Connor.

He said staffed businesses would need to be registered and follow strict health guidelines to avoid the virus from spreading.

O'Connor answered questions from farmers which included:

Will meatworks continue killing livestock? Yes they will. The meat companies will have to do it in a different way, it may slow down production a little bit if they have to spread people out....But we have been working with them, and yes they will.

Will vets still be working? Vets will be able to work because we need them to ensure animal welfare standards are maintained but it may not mean that all their clinics are open for the sale of dog collars and all the rest of it.

Will rural supplies stores stay open? We are looking for best practice around the world. Other countries are having to do this as well, places like Ireland. We understand that some stores, you can ring in and then you can pick up - you can't wander around the store though. We have been working with businesses to make sure they have an innovative plan and solution.

What will it mean for the campaign to eradicate and test for MBovis? We have to continue with this program, we will be running core staff around tracking and tracing. There are currently 31 farms infected, so that's manageable and a lot of the tracting and testing doesn't require close human contact.

Will saleyards still operate? We are getting some clear guidelines on that, we may end up having a new system, for example calves we could transfer them from seller to buyer in a way which doesn't require saleyards. Some already have an on-line system but guidelines will be out soon.

Horticulture guidelines released

More than 80 primary sector representatives attended a teleconference hosted by MPI on Monday night to discuss essential services in the primary sector. 

New Zealand Apples and Pears CEO Alan Pollard said it has now provided some clarity about continuity of business.

The latest information for growers:

  • All food and beverage producers and processors, and their supply chains, are deemed to be essential services.
  • Which essential businesses are included in the definition of the supply chain is still being discussed with MPI.
  • All orchards, packhouses, cool stores and export entities are essential services.You can continue to operate, but there will be strict rules in place that allow you to continue to do so.
  • A key message from the briefing was that "we can't change the virus to suit your operational needs; but we can change your operational needs to suit the virus".
  • The expectation is that you must change the way that you operate (if you haven't done so already) to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
  • There must be nowhere in your supply chain that will facilitate the spread of the virus.

More information is available at Horticulture NZ

Fonterra prioritised

The collection of Fonterra farmers' milk and the co-op's operations will be prioritised under the lockdown restrictions.

Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell told Newshub that it had received advice from the Government that Fonterra is considered an essential service.

"As part of the food supply chain, the collection of Fonterra farmers' milk and our operations will be prioritised," said Hurrell.

He said Fonterra employees in the food supply chain, such as farmers, tanker drivers, manufacturing and distribution centre employees, were to keep working but follow the very strict guidance from the government to protect themselves and the community from COVID-19.

"The Government has shown a lot of trust in us to keep operating under a level 4 alert. 

"This is a big responsibility. I sincerely thank all our people who will continue to keep dairy in production for everyone's health and nutrition during this difficult time."

All Fonterra staff who are able to work from home would do so. 

The Fonterra owned Farm Source retail stores across New Zealand would be closing for the time being, however people would still be able to shop online.

Check back for updates.