Comment: To beat Covid-19 those working on the land must do their bit on-farm and off, writes Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis.

Just like our hard working medical and emergency services, communications and infrastructure teams, the next four weeks will see farmers and their supporting services continuing to work while most of the country is locked down.

Being away from the high populations of our urban centres is an advantage in a time when we need to limit people contact and for many, business on the farm will largely feel like usual.

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But for all of us to beat this, those working on the land must do their bit on the farm and off.

Farmers are used to improvising and making do, and right now across the country farming business operators will be scratching their heads and working out how to maintain isolation distances while milking cows, drafting stock and all the other regular on-farm tasks.

On my own farm we have made a set of rules that everyone must abide by.

Maintaining isolation while dairying with a team of seven families plus others has its challenges, but we are figuring out ways to make it work. My staff are on a 6/2 roster, so that leaves me with fewer staff operating daily.

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis. Photo / Supplied
Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis. Photo / Supplied

First, sickness is just that. If you are not well you stay home, no soldiering on for anyone.

Wash all clothing every night and a clean set on every day. No sharing drink bottles, cups or eating lunch together. Sanitiser (if I can buy more) and antibacterial soap is provided by the farm for everyone; hand washing before meals, smoking or drinking.

We are lucky to have good connectivity and individual smart phones, so we can make technology work for us.

All farm briefings and meetings are now by phone, such as the viber messaging app or video message. Socialising is a remote activity, if you want to catch up with someone, message, text or give them a call.

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I also do this for contractors. If we have an issue, I will photograph or video the issue and send it to them electronically.

We've done this for many years, as I live many miles away from town and don't like paying extra mileage rate or hours billed going multiple times to town and back to get the right parts.

The service team love it too, they get to see the problem first on their phone and can grab what they need before heading to us.

The tractor mechanic said to me on the way out to a job the other day that he was already thinking about how to fix it after watching the video and by the time he got here he had a plan in his head. So that cuts back on expensive labour charges too!

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Vehicles are another issue. No sharing vehicles, one vehicle one person.

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Everyone is allocated their own motorbike and gloves are an essential in the tractor where a different person may operate it. Wear gloves when fueling up, don't leave rubbish or drink bottles in vehicles.

The cow shed is also a challenge.

Wash hands, put gloves on, keep aprons washed. Maintain isolation distances at all times; wait and let someone past and organise jobs so that you are not standing near each other.

Easier in my rotary where we can have only one putting cups on, but I'm sure you can do something in a herringbone. Front half of shed is Mary's space and back half is John's. John washes down yard, Mary puts wash through.

For essential services coming on to farm all staff are instructed to keep their distance.

Wave to the tanker driver and leave them to it. Farm supplies can be delivered, the driver goes and we pick up the items afterwards. Remember to text or email people ahead of time if you need parts and use your gloves to pick up delivered goods.

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I know this is all far easier said then done, so this is just to start the conversation off.

Tag me in social media, email me or message a video, photo, policies and tag my mates in @DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, DCANZ, Dairy women network. We will help share your awesome ideas under the Dairy Tomorrow partnership.

Farming and associated services will do our bit to help feed our people and keep our economy going, but it cannot be at the expense of achieving the overall isolation goal.

So many across New Zealand are doing it tough and we have to make sure we do our bit as well.