Destocking in the grip of a drought is making the Covid-19 crisis a secondary issue across Hawke's Bay rural communities, according to one farming leader.

Federated Farmers provincial president Jim Galloway says most farmers are "semi-isolated" by nature of their location, and have the advantage of being able to get out into wide open spaces to keep working each day, and of dealing with other crises, which have included the quarantining of farms.

But he stresses that whatever, farmers must maintain the same rules as the rest of the nation in staying home and only doing "what's absolutely vital" without threatening the unprecedented steps being taken to block the spread of the virus.

In addition to the coronavirus alert which yesterday became a national state of emergency, and the drought, already the subject of medium and larger-scale event support packages, there are farmers who also have to cope with Tb outbreaks and the impact of the Mycoplasma alert now entering its fourth year, with at least one property in Hawke's Bay still under notice of direction.

Advertisement

While stock sales are constantly threatened – this Stortford Lodge sale of in-calf cows was cancelled - the good news is that meatworks, according to retiring Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie, are trying to maintain processing as normal as possible, though under extreme pressure.

The clearest statement for farmers came from Federated Farmers' national office on Tuesday with confirmation of "essential service" status for much of what goes on on the land.

"Farmers can carry on doing what they do best - putting high quality food on people's tables and earning export revenue," a statement said.

Services associated with the primary sector, including food processors, diagnostics, farm suppliers, freight and trucking can also go about their business, while taking all practical steps to limit people to people contact.

It does create issues for contractors, and decisions on what services may be able to be still carried out.

Shearing, as one example, was not regarded as an essential service, in contrast to war years when, in much less-defined times, meat was needed to feed the nation, wool was necessary for clothing the men at war, and shearing became an animal welfare necessity.

Working with Federated Farmers, the Shearing Contractors Association, which doesn't cover all of the contractors, has been working with MPI to try to enable some shearing on a case-by-case basis, based on the need in conjunction with the safety of those who would do the work.

As some workers wondered about the situation, including questioning the level of risk in the woolshed, association president and King Country contractor Mark Barrowcliffe said to association members: "As of Wednesday night we will no longer be able to go to work in the wool harvesting industry for a period of four weeks. No exceptions."

Advertisement

Barrowcliffe highlighted the gravity of the modern situation by saying: "Please remember, the goal is saving human lives. New Zealand has 500,000 over 60-year-olds, imagine losing 30 per cent. That's a line of 100,000 to walk past and look in the eye."

He said if shearing had to be done "going to work wouldn't look like it did yesterday", indicating the obvious that crews would be unlikely to be travelling to jobs in the crew van.

Horticulture faces monumental issues, and has been collating issues and questions from growers and industry organisations to assist in preparing its Covid-19 risk management protocols.

It says the priority questions asked of MPI are to do with essential service aspects of production and other operations, including the two-metre rule and whether individuals who perform essential services in the horticulture industry, and who are over 70 years of age, can be exempt from the Government's general instruction of remaining at home.

HortNZ says essential services workers in the horticulture industry will need some sort of documentation for movement to/from their places of work, and asks what will they need?

Both Federated Farmers and HortNZ have been urging those in their industries to maintain watches on websites and relevant social media pages to keep up-to-date.