Kiwi farmers are not only dealing with extreme weather events, but also facing uncertainty around how China's spreading coronavirus outbreak could affect New Zealand's exports.
Today on The Country, Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor spoke to Jamie Mackay about flooding in Southland, dry conditions in Northland and why he thinks coronavirus is a "huge issue" for New Zealand.
• The big dry: Hawke's Bay farmers struggling to even wash milking stations
• Ratings agency Fitch assesses dairy prices, production amid coronavirus fears
• Northland farming leader calls on Govt to declare a drought
• Fears for Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit industry as coronavirus spreads
Mackay: Let's kick off The Country with the Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor ... OK Damien, floods, droughts, coronavirus - it never rains but it pours. Look I'm really worried about coronavirus and we've seen it already have a severe effect on the likes of the forestry industry and the crayfish industry, the tourism industry, the education industry - how hard is this going to hit farming? I know we don't know, but potentially this could be a huge hiccup.
O'Connor: Look yes it is going to affect us. This is a huge issue. While in itself it may not affect an individual more than a common flu, the fact that it's spreading so quickly and hard to contain is the kind of challenge that the world faces now.
I guess we have a third of our exports almost, going to China. We're highly exposed to anything, any little hiccup in China and of course it's not just China now ... it flows through the world in supply chains.
I was reminded that we're approaching the apple season, kiwifruit - we've got packaging coming out of China for a lot of our industries.
So we've developed a dependence on that one country that is highly risky and I guess we have yet to see how that will play out.
Mackay: And yet there are some New Zealand companies who stand to benefit from this, I think for instance organic apples are really in demand as people look for a safe source of food and also rather than going to the markets, especially the wet markets, they're buying online so every cloud I guess has its silver lining for somebody.
O'Connor: I think the lesson in that is that the only place we can afford to be as a country producing food is to have the finest, safest food available for people who will always have the resources to pay more for that safe food.
We can't feed the world, but we can go out and supply to those people who can afford to buy it and we can maybe use our techniques and the systems to help feed the world.
But it's a wake up call for us both in market dependence, people are looking now back to Europe, back to the UK and the US, certainly in tourism, where they should have been focusing as well.
I think keeping our options open is always the smart thing to do.
Mackay: That's coronavirus ticked off, we're going to talk about floods and droughts. OK we'll go with the floods - you were down there, Prime Minister Ardern chose to go to the Big Gay Out instead and it got a bit of stick down in the deep south, and the social media hashtag #tooblueforahug was going around. Is that rather cynical of those people Damien?
O'Connor: Of course it is. Look I was down there as soon as I could, [Civil Defence Minister] Peeni Henare, we've had officials on the ground, we're talking actively with the mayors and with the Rural Support Trust and I know the Prime Minister's trying to get down there as soon as she can.
There has been a lot going on, poor old Mike Moore has passed away, there's been a lot happening in the lead up to the first week of Parliament and I know the PM is trying to arrange it to get down there.
And in fact, seeing how we approach the clean up is probably the most important part, given that when I was down there it was all covered in water. It was hard to do an assessment, but I did see amazing work and the co-operation, collaboration that was happening in the Invercargill base and around the towns.
#farmyarmy volunteers hard at work in #southland the #forgottonprovince ,it would be nice to see @jacindaardern come down for a look or is #Southland #tooblueforahug @HamishWalkerMP @blairdrysdale77 @GrantMcCallum4 @TheCountry @deanrabbidge @katrinathomas67 @TheMusterShow pic.twitter.com/5hQUVeQizY— Andrew Thompson (@Pandasport) February 9, 2020
Mackay: Well Damien this would be a good week to go down there. Of course the Southern Field Days at Waimumu would be an ideal time to turn up and show your face and have a look around at the flood damage.
O'Connor: Well I think that was always planned actually. Not for the flood, but certainly for Waimumu. It's a great event and I was hoping to be there all day Friday, but Mike Moore's funeral might limit that.
But, [I'm] still intending to get down and hopefully it will be a cheery event for a number of farmers. I guess there's a hundred of them in the firing line who have been badly affected.
The feedback from the Rural Support Trust is they're getting out there helping people, extending the word out to others who may have been less affected but still need a bit of help and support.
So a lot happening on the ground and in the usual kind of pragmatic way the Southlanders got together, got on and dealt with it and I'm sure they'll clean up in the same way.
Mackay: Let's finish on the droughts, look, this is a real worry as well Northland running out of water. I was reading a report online this morning about a river in Hawke's Bay, record low flows got up to 29 degrees Celsius water temperature. This is bad and there is no dark clouds on the horizon, rain clouds unfortunately, it looks like this is going to continue for some weeks.
O'Connor: It is ... there's ... a meeting, going on today up in Northland and officials are working with the people, the Rural Support Trust and rural representatives on the ground and we'll be looking at reports back from that today.
While a declaration of a drought doesn't in itself bring the rain, I guess it brings a bit of a relief and allows perhaps the banks to give a bit more consideration to farmers, or suppliers to give more consideration to farmers who are facing some tough times.
I was up there a couple of weeks ago and [it's] clearly dry. Now we're looking at another couple of weeks without any rain so it is the reality of this new world of climate change or changing climate, or more acute events and we just have to be more resilient.
Mackay: Why don't you build a few more dams? There's a good solution for you Damien. Tell some of your Green mates to do that.
O'Connor: Well in fact we are Jamie.
Mackay: I'm pleased to hear that.
O'Connor: Yeah and we always have supported water storage in the right place for the right reasons and we'll continue to do that. We've just approved more funding for the Wairarapa.
There's funding for a dam up in Northland and - I think around the Kaipara - you know if they've got schemes that they've had sitting around - some of these for 30 years talking about them, no one's done anything about it, including your mates in National, they didn't do anything either.
We're looking at any of these proposals that come forward that are sensible.
Mackay: Well that would be a great infrastructure programme for you.
O'Connor: It is ... and when we ...
Mackay: It would be like reliving Bill Birch and Think Big Damien, you could go back in time.
O'Connor: Well the trouble is we've got a hell of a lot of rundown assets that we've got to try and patch up. Schools, hospitals and roads, and they were run down. They sweated the roading network in this country because they didn't want to put the money [in], that's the last National Government, and we're having to come and patch that system up.
Mackay: Alright it's starting to sound like election year.
O'Connor: Well you gave me the lob Jamie.
Mackay: Yeah alright, alright.
Also in today's interview: O'Connor discussed Mike Moore's contribution to New Zealand's trade industry.