Coronavirus: How to keep your farm safe from COVID-19 at level 2

Level 2 will see some changes to how farms are run.
Level 2 will see some changes to how farms are run. Photo credit: Getty

With the country moving to level 2 on Thursday, businesses across the country are preparing to return to some sort of normality.

Although social distancing rules and other COVID-19 regulations may not have affected farmers on a day-to-day level as much as people working in other sectors, level 2 will see some changes to how farms are run.

Tony Watson, general manager of Safer Farms, says farmers for the most part "kept calm and carried on through level 4 and 3". And though many may feel the shift to level 2 signifies we can drop our guard, that's not the case he says.

"Level 2 somehow sounds like we've got to be less vigilant but actually I think we've got to be more vigilant because there'll be more people coming and going," Watson told the Rural Exchange radio programme on Magic Talk on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the change on Monday. The highly anticipated shift will mean cinemas, retail stores, playgrounds, gyms, shopping malls and community venues can reopen as long as physical distancing and strict hygiene measures are practised.

The change also comes ahead of moving day on June 1, a date that marks the start of the new dairy season and sees a large number of families, sharemilkers, contract milkers and employees move to new farms to start new employment and milking contracts.

Although community transmission of COVID-19 appears to have been stamped out during the lockdown, many have concerns there could be another outbreak when social distancing regulations are relaxed.

Watson says farmers need to take the risk seriously.

"It's like any health and safety-related stuff, really - the danger is when we get complacent about things."

By treating COVID-19 like other health and safety issues, Watson said farmers would be in a good position to mitigate the risks

"Just ask yourself with what I'm about to do, what could possibly go wrong? In a way it doesn't matter whether it's jumping on a quad bike or going to pick up a chainsaw or meeting up with somebody in this COVID environment - they're all risks. We've always got to ask ourselves what could go wrong and then what am I doing about it and is that enough?"

The first rule to follow was to maintain physical distancing where possible, Watson said.

"If you can't, just make sure you can help with that contact tracing. What that means is making sure you know who's been in contact with you and your people and what possible sources of transmission there may have been in the event that it needs to be traced."

Although farmers don't need to take responsibility for recording all the contacts their employees have, they can encourage their staff to be vigilant in documenting where they go and who they see.

"What we're saying to farmers is you don't have to collect that information yourself, you don't have to be nosy, it's not about prying into your workers or your family or other people's private life, it's just saying 'hey, make sure you record it' because if something happens on farm and somebody else crops up and we've got a problem with a COVID infection over here, we all need to know pretty quickly where it could have come from and who else could have been infected."

One simple way of recording your movements and interactions was to take photos with your smartphone, Watson suggested.

Concerns over how to deal with COVID-19 are just one issue farmers have struggled with in recent months. Severe drought has been crippling for many parts of the country and the dairy industry is also facing a labour shortage ahead of the start of the new season.

Due to border closures introduced to stop COVID-19 entering the country, there are fewer migrant workers, resulting in around 1000 vacancies in the sector.

That means many farmers will have to begin the dairy season with fewer hands, potentially making worrying about the health and safety of animals and workers even harder.

With thousands of jobs already having been axed in industries like tourism and hospitality, it is hoped that some of the positions on dairy farms can be filled by people making a switch from those struggling sectors.

But even if the positions are filled, it still takes time to train people up.

Watson says with new workers on farms, it is more important than ever to make put a priority on safety.

"Regardless of whether they're from another sector or another country or whatever, whenever we've got new people on the farm we want to make farming attractive... we've got to have a professional approach to them as employers and as a sector and we've got to look after them when they're there.

"And a big part of that is making sure they're safe at work."