The world needs to eat - coronavirus or not - and farmers can take heart from that, Wanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone says.

Even in China, where Covid-19 started, the government is giving priority to the movement of meat and dairy products through ports. Chillers and freezers are full, ports like Shanghai and Tianjin are jammed, but food is moving faster than it was six weeks ago.

The main thing on the mind of Cranstone and other Whanganui region farmers is not the global pandemic, it's the drought.

Farmers short of feed have wanted to send animals to meatworks. However, processing plants are working at capacity, and farmers have often had to wait.


China has slowed the spread of Covid-19 and things are returning to normal there, Silver Fern Farms and Beef + Lamb NZ say. Chinese people are buying more meat online to save going out in the street, and they are trying new beef and lamb recipes.

Meat prices are still good, but those for high-end products could drop in a recession. Sheep meat is selling well in Europe, the United States and Saudi Arabia, Beef + Lamb NZ said, and beef is selling well in the United States, Canada, Taiwan and Indonesia.

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Whanganui pork producer Aorere Farms does not export but would be affected by a general slowdown, owner Grant Skilton said. He would be very worried if a lockdown stopped pork processing, because the animals are lined up for slaughter 10 months in advance.

Agriculture could bob back up to being New Zealand's top export earner if tourism and hospitality go through a long downturn, Cranstone said. And it could provide work for people who lose their jobs making coffee or cleaning motel rooms.

Those people could find themselves planting pine trees or picking apples instead.

"Hopefully the agriculture and horticulture industries that have often found it hard to get seasonal labour will provide employment opportunities," Cranstone said.

Federated Farmers has congratulated the Reserve Bank for cutting the Official Cash Rate from 1 per cent to 0.25 per cent. The Reserve Bank also delayed a requirement for banks to hold more capital.


Federated Farmers encourages the Government to make similar decisive moves to stimulate the economy.

"Hopefully the Government follows the Reserve Bank's lead and defers some of the wide range of regulatory impositions in the pipeline, such as freshwater management and climate change."

Those rules are on a fast track, and Cranstone said the regulation will impact business confidence and profitability "at the worst possible time".