The agricultural sectors benefitting most from COVID-19

More than six months after the outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic has had a massive effect on New Zealand agricultural exports.

And while some industries have benefited from the situation, others have been hit hard.

According to a new report by ASB, forestry and horticulture industries have been the "big winners" over the recent months, while the meat sector - heavily impacted by a lack of restaurant trade around the world - has taken the biggest hit.

"After steep falls earlier in the year, prices for many agricultural commodities have lifted off their lows and some are even touching year-ago levels," the report states.

"Still, the gains have not been evenly distributed, and the unique export mix and supply factors of each commodity have played a big part in where things have landed."

ASB economist Nick Tuffley says the star performer of our exports has been kiwifruit. 

"Kiwifruit has just had an absolutely bumper season," Tufley told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Friday.

"One of the touted benefits of kiwifruit is all that vitamin C goodness it gives people and we're all wanting to keep the colds and chills and the COVID away, and so that's quite a marketing play at the moment. So that's been a sector that's been quite a winner over the course of this year."

After struggling from supply chain issues earlier on the pandemic, forestry has also come out well. Prices have lifted above year-ago levels "and face further upside with construction activity holding up and the Chinese recovery continuing", the report said.

Tuffley said the dairy sector was "broadly in the middle of the pack", but had proved to be much more resilient than many had expected.

ASB recently revised its farmgate milk price up to $6.75, from $6.50, as global milk prices stabilised.

"We're back to a level that we see as quite sustainable for whole milk powder prices - somewhere around US$3000 (NZ$4387) a [metric] tonne," Tuffley said.

"And as we're going ahead we think that the next season the risks are pretty well balanced around that $6.75 payout. So that's still pretty reasonable and we see that as a pretty sustainable long-run pace for dairy."

Although meat prices have stabilised since crashing earlier this year, Tufley said the sector continued to face "a few challenges".

"We had a lot of disruption to our shipments to China early on this year and that caused quite a scramble to find a home for meat around the world and we did see prices dip back at that stage," he said.

Although there has been "some recovery coming through", continued outbreaks of COVID-19 were likely to have ongoing impacts on the sector, he said.

"One of the challenges that we are going to be facing over the next few months though is that with COVID essentially continuing to accelerate in infections in places like the US and Europe - essentially getting yet another way of infections coming through - what that is bringing with it is a lot more restrictions again. 

"It's a restaurant-focused trade so it's going to be facing a few headwinds, in our view, going forward. And it's probably going to be affecting lamb a little bit more than beef. So yes, we've had some price recovery coming through but it's not back to where we were this time last year."

Although wool prices have been "lagging the pack", down by more than 20 percent on year-ago levels, Tuffley said there was some "eventual hope for them down the track", as demand for the product was growing.