Yesterday on The Country, Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor answered questions about what constitutes an essential industry or service for the rural sector at alert level 4 during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Today, O'Connor joined Jamie Mackay and Rowena Duncum again, to continue to provide answers for those in agriculture industry who need more clarification.

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Before answering questions, O'Connor told rural people to follow the tweet he saw from Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard, which he said was a "good summary of what we are challenged with here".


"If you don't absolutely have to do this in the next four weeks - then don't."

O'Connor said expecting things to be normal was "unrealistic".

"This is a whole new world. Our focus is on stopping the spread of this virus and stopping us getting into a situation like Italy."

The following is a selection of questions for the Minister of Agriculture on essential services during alert level 4. Listen to the interview below to hear all questions.

Can contractors still go ahead with planting for winter feed and bringing in feed for drought-stricken areas?

O'Connor: Yes that has been accepted as necessary ... that is if it is critical in terms of time of planting. That is allowed at this point, but every part of the operation has to ensure that there's safety and there's no spread of the virus.

It does get complex. That has been accepted at this point as a necessary part of the farming operation to ensure that we have feed and we can look after the animals in a few months' time.

What's the situation with managing multiple farms?

O'Connor: We're trying to minimise the amount of movement as I've said. Clearly you have to have someone who can check on the welfare of the animals. It should be someone living on the farm quite frankly keeping an eye on things for a number of reasons.

So that is something that is allowed if you think it is absolutely essential to check on the animal welfare situation then you should be able to provide that oversight.

It is part of farming but it's a reminder about having people reasonably close to those farm animals. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website
If the shearing gangs are in lockdown how do we get our sheep shorn? For example - ewes that need a full-belly crutch but are full of dags pre-tupping.

O'Connor: There was some discussion I understand [about this] after my talk yesterday. Look it's what is absolutely necessary - if there is an animal welfare situation - if we're going to end up with ewes running around and getting into trouble because they've got a belly full of dags, then probably something should be done.


Again it would be registering on the MPI website, checking in, making sure that you have answered all the questions around minimising any spread of the virus and that may be able to be approved.

All these businesses that ... register online and answer and clarify the queries - then they will be scrutinised [because] making sure that they do the right thing is really important.

It's animal welfare. As [champion shearer] Rowland Smith said, a lot of the shearing can be left for four weeks. It is a case-by-case [situation]. This is all new for us ... we're prepared to look at these things when necessary.

Will people have to delay farm possession changeovers due to the lockdown period?

O'Connor: If you can delay - yes.

[It depends on] the circumstances of the individual on-farm. If that person can't manage the livestock and animal welfare situation then they need assistance ... that can be looked at.

Find out more about registering for safe practice with MPI here.
You've said farriers aren't essential - but it's more than just trimming your pony's hooves every six weeks.

O'Connor: I'd imagine that probably on the farm there would be someone there who might be able to repair a shoe or look after the horses' feet for that operation.


Where it's absolutely essential - if a vet comes in and sees there's a major problem with a leg or a hoof of an animal then something can be done - but again - it's what is absolutely essential? You have to ask yourself this is you're a person going to do the work or if you're a business. We're relying on each and every individual Kiwi to make those judgments for the right reasons.

Sticking with horses - what's the deal with high country mustering ahead of the winter- will a mustering team get an exemption?

O'Connor: Well all farming is essential service. So the farming operation has been acknowledged as being essential and that's of course is part of that.

We're not going to get into individual farm management but the fact that farms and the production of food and everything connected to that is allowed - on the basis of sound animal welfare management and keeping the food supply going - that's already approved.

What about calf sales?

O'Connor: No. There's been discussions in the last 24 hours around these sales ... but I think [PGG] Wrightson's have cancelled a couple already.

The point is really quickly that we might have to learn to trust one another to trade online.

Trucks, livestock moving is allowed - so if you sit down, and I guess online you can work through who wants to sell and who wants to buy [and] agree on a price and get it done.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor. Photo / Supplied
Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor. Photo / Supplied

What's happening with rural broadband connectivity?


We are dealing with a legacy of ... inadequate infrastructure investment and we've tried to speed that up. It's still not perfect and I'm reluctant to say go online and check.

That's where we have to help one another through neighbours. If you can ring and help one another negotiate. If your neighbour wants to unload 500 lambs or calves and they don't have a broadband connection then give them a hand and do it for them or help them with it.

What about coal mining?

O'Connor: Clearly coal is a necessary part of heating for hospitals, for schools - although they're closed down - and for the dairy and other sectors and that needs to continue. But we don't need coal mining for export and those are the things that we're working through with the industry - they need clarity - they have to be able to explain how ... their contracts and supply goes directly to domestic needs.

What about relief milkers?

O'Connor: Good question. It is covered technically under the current terms of essential industry - but don't abuse that. The farmer might have to get out and do some more milking themselves. I know my brother is.


How much sanitisation will dairy farmers have to do - every surface?

O'Connor: You've got to run a system within your farm to try and do that - but when they get home - and I guess ensuring that all workers who are still continuing to operate kind of in a normal way - that they realise that at home it's a whole different ball game as well.

So their families, their social connections that shouldn't be occurring - keep focused on what is an abnormal situation - even though at work it may be relatively normal."

If you have more questions for Damien O'Connor, send them to The Country's Facebook Page.