By Miles Anderson.
OPINION: Rural New Zealand can be a pretty quiet place at the best of times and for the next four weeks it will be even more so. Every community relies on its people to help each other and rural ones more than most. As a rule, we usually know what our neighbours are up to, the regular vehicles on our roads and help to keep an eye on things as we are going about our day-to-day business.
The Covid-19 lock-down could change all of that. We will mostly be working alone to maintain our 'bubble'. No school runs or trips to town for sport, instead just once a fortnight trip for groceries and only the odd stock truck or tanker coming down the road. Many remote properties have set themselves up so they won't go out at all for the lock-down.
Farming businesses are reduced to essential tasks and many are running a skeleton crew and reduced work programme. The usual farm visitors who help to keep an eye out are also absent - no one doing firewood, no roar hunters or duck shooters setting up for the season. This means even fewer people out and about than normal and some real opportunities for mischief. With longer nights and no one around, conditions are prime for those unique rural crimes - stock rustling, vehicle and fuel theft and poaching.
The impacts of the Covid-19 response will unfortunately be wider-reaching than just the next four weeks. Unemployment is predicted to rise and potential increases in food prices may act to encourage stock theft and poaching. Farmers are busier than normal feeding out to drought-impacted stock and with kids at home, leaving even less time than normal to be keeping an eye out. Despite the challenges, there are a few simple things farmers can do to help reduce the risk.
The lock-down means no one should be joy-riding or coming out to the country for recreational activities. Investigate any unknown vehicles or suspicious people, record licence plates and report suspicious activities to the police. Remember to be careful when approaching people or vehicles, particularly when alone.
Remove temptation. Lock the sheds every night, put away tools and vehicles and take the keys out. Don't leave those fat lambs in the town-block run-off if they can be brought back home. Scare-off or shoot those deer hanging around the road front that everyone can see.
The police are very aware of potential issues and want to do everything they can to help. They are already actively stopping vehicles on country roads and if they don't have an essential services letter, sending them back home. Make sure you and your staff are carrying one - you can download the template from the Feds' website.
We are all used to spending a lot of time alone but remember this is not a normal time. Talk to you neighbours about what's going on. Get organised within your community to help each other in cases of injury or illness. If a neighbour becomes incapacitated, sort out who will feed stock and take care of the farm. Plan for a variety of scenarios that may occur - keeping in mind the social distancing required, as outside assistance might be difficult as the number of Covid-19 affected people rise.
This is the perfect time to form a neighbourhood support group to share information. Ask Joe down the road to check the run-off on their way past and tell the valley if you have a contractor coming out to undertake an essential service. We can't pop around for a coffee or down for a beer at the pub, so instead give people a ring or set up an email or messenger chat. Take five minutes to check in with each other and see if you can help.
The strength in rural communities is that we can rely on each other when we need to and this is turning into one of those times.
Miles Anderson is Federated Farmers national board member and rural security spokesperson.