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Feeling the pinch

Lockdown adding to farmers’ stress
Toby Williams

Comment by Toby Williams (Gisborne-Wairoa Federated Farmers president)

As a rural person, a big part of the enjoyment is the challenge. Every day is different and you never know what is around the corner.

You need to be able to think on your feet and keep a lot of balls up in the air.

But my word, there are a lot of balls at the moment.

We are lucky in our region that much of the central government’s policy changes are yet to hit us, as they have in other regions.

This is thanks to us farming less intensively than in many other regions. Being “out east” we tend to be forgotten about.

Fret not, these changes will come to us. As with everywhere else this is a given but it is also a battle for another day.

Before last week’s announcement of a Covid infection in the New Zealand community there were two things weighing heavily on my mind.

The ongoing dry period — we cannot call it a drought at the moment since we have had some decent rain in most parts of the region this winter — and the deplorable actions of eight of our city councillors deciding that dedicated rural representation in our region was no longer required.

Then boom, locked down again.

This lockdown is a bit different from the last.

In terms of farming we are in a period of relative calmness.

Most stock is set-stocked for calving and lambing and most have prepared their properties as well as they can for the pinch period over winter. No stress there then.

Except when it comes time for docking and calf marking.

Many farms get casual labour in over this period so we are able to get through these tasks in a timely and efficient manner.

It is an animal health issue and there are regulations about the age that these tasks must be performed by for animal welfare reasons, therefore they cannot be delayed.

Here comes the kicker. No one would argue about the need to lockdown and try to avoid a Sydney-like catastrophe.

But how is that relevant in an area that has no cases of Covid?

Our Prime Minister is being very disingenuous with us all.

She is teasing that we will be out of lockdown soon. “It’s only four days until we look at it again.”

“Oh look, another four days and we will look again.”

Very soon a month will have passed and we will still be in lockdown, only this time four days at a time.

So how is this relevant I hear you say.

As mentioned above we are reaching a time when farmers require extra labour.

We are fortunate that as essential workers we are able to carry on.

Under current rules we are not able to extend our bubbles until Alert Level 2.

So this four-day lockdown-a-thon will begin to cause more stress among our farmers.

Do I break the law for animal welfare reasons or by breaking my bubble to get essential workers to help out?

This adds to the stresses that are already on-farm with low feed supplies and the normal pinch period of winter.

Last Saturday Kristin Kirkpatrick had a piece in The Herald about some work being done around drought resilience.

Early indicators for her work so far were leaving me with concerns around how our farmers are coping.

This is only being exacerbated in our current situation.

To top it all off we are being bombarded by some of our non-rural councillors as to how they could do the job rural councillors do.

Given that most of what I have said above will be well known to our rural councillors, how many of the others would have any idea of what is happening in our rural areas at the moment?

We need rural people to let the GDC know that we need to have dedicated rural representation.

We had plans to host community meetings with our rural councillors to encourage submissions being made and to discuss concerns. This can not happen now until Alert Level 2 at the earliest.

We will be lobbying the council to extend the consultation period so people are able to participate in this representation debate, but in the mean time head to the website and have your say.

If you are in need of support contact the Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254, or to discuss concerns send me (gisbornepresident@gmail.com) or Kristin (kkagriproject@gmail.com) an email and we may be able to point you in the right direction.