Farming has been one of the economy's life rafts during the Covid-19 lockdown, but Federated Farmers president as Katie Milne told Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee this morning that winter was coming, and not just in terms of the weather.

The "double whammy of drought" and reduced capacity at meat processing works meant many farmers were carrying more stock than they would wish into the colder months, and feed was very tight, while grass and crop yields were down.

Winter, in another sense, was the dampener on primary produce prices that would likely stem from world economies crashed by the virus crisis. The same had happened after the Global Financial Crisis.

"Meat that was getting $5 something a kilo is now bringing in $3, if we can get it off the farm. The milk returns (per kilo of milk solids) had $7 in front of it this year, but there are predictions that next year it will be $5,," Ms Milne said.


While the sector was working as hard as it could to keep things going, farming would not come out of the crisis unscathed, the federation having particular concerns about the lockdown's impacts on businesses downstream of producers and growers that helped keep farming running every day - "The suppliers to the guy who fixes the hydraulic pump, the guy who imports the tractor tyres."

The organisation also sounded a warning about the potential for signalled government regulation in the "environmental space" to reduce agriculture's earnings at a time when farmers, and the nation, could not afford it. Work by agriculture sector agencies and Local Government NZ suggested the impact of the Essential Freshwater package, if not modified, could cut agricultural earnings by 10-30 per cent in some regions.

If pause was pressed on those regulations, "that wouldn't kick the can down the road" on progress, because farmers were already under way with a host of environmental initiatives and work streams.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson asked Ms Milne and federation vice-president Andrew Hoggard if there were employment opportunities in those farmer-led environment and catchment improvement projects already under way in many parts of the country. She was told that was definitely the case. Extra government investment could boost pest and wilding pine control programmes, and riparian planting, for example.

"We had the Taskforce Green programme. What about Taskforce Farm?" Ms Milne asked.

While Federated Farmers applauded some of the business stimulus measures being talked about, however, it rejected any notion of returning to subsidies, quotas and other protectionist policies.

"We're glad (Trade) Minister (David Parker) is still talking about the need for trade-open borders. We all know that exporting is the economic driver for New Zealand," she added.

"If New Zealand gets protectionist, nations we trade with will get protectionist right back at us."