Coronavirus: Lockdown an extra pressure for farmers in drought

A rural support agency says the COVID-19 lockdown is adding more pressure on farmers who are already struggling with drought conditions. 

The Waikato Primary Industries Cluster met online to take stock of the continuing drought and new challenges arising from the coronavirus response.

The group includes representatives from Waikato and Auckland Civil Defence Emergency Management, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Rural Support Trust, Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, Rural Women New Zealand, Beef + Lamb and Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association.

Chairman of the Cluster and the Waikato Rural Support Trust Neil Bateup said members had adjusted to new ways of working due to the nationwide lockdown, which limits on face to face contact.

"Because of the lockdown we've had to cancel our schedule of community events which we'd put in place to support farmers in drought. 

"These events were a meet and greet for farmers and their neighbours, and a great morale boost for all who attend," said Bateup.

He said farmers had been battling a very long hot summer drought which had been unusually long in duration. 

Rural Support Trust chaiman Neil Bateup and Agriculture Minister, Damien O'Connor on a recent visit to a Waikato farm.
Rural Support Trust chaiman Neil Bateup and Agriculture Minister, Damien O'Connor on a recent visit to a Waikato farm. Photo credit: Newshub

"Ongoing drought conditions are still proving to be an enormous ongoing challenge for farmers.

"Some areas of the Waikato and South Auckland regions have had some variable rainfall, but eastern areas have had little more than drizzle. It is proving tough for autumn-calving dairy farmers to meet rising feed requirements."

A new 'Getting Support for your Feed Planning' service has been launched and was available through DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ or AgFirst. 

Bateup said farmers were encouraged to talk to their industry bodies about the help that's available, and to make regular contact with bankers and advisors.

"As signs of autumn are appearing, and with temperatures at night cooling, it is important that farmers continued to plan for the winter and spring ahead."

DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb NZ had also been in the process of coordinating events for farmers prior to the lockdown and those programmes have also been put on hold.  

Farmers were also being reminded to take advice around the COVID-19 lockdown seriously.  

"I encourage our farmers to refer to the Government website, or any tailored advice from industry agencies who are providing information and updates to keep them well informed on what is a rapidly changing situation.

"It is a very serious intrusion into our way of life, and our own actions will have a major impact on ensuring the best chances of keeping ourselves, our families and our employees safe."

The Rural Support Trust continues to provide support to farmers through the 0800 787 254 helpline (0800 RURAL HELP).