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Farming is essential

FARMERS don’t farm for the recognition, appreciation and praise.

In fact we often cop a lot of flack from those we feed, but who have little understanding of what we do an a day to day basis.

However as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic took hold of the country in March, it soon became glaringly obvious that farming is important.

Suddenly climate change has become less significant and the focus has shifted back to the simple things such as eating, a roof over our heads and our health.

With chaos in our supermarkets as the sight of bare shelves, consumers who have previously taken food security for granted started to rethink their assumptions that safe, nutritious, cheap food will always be available freely and cheaply to them.

In Australia we are fortunate enough that we produce enough food to feed our domestic population three times over.

With 65 per cent of the food we produce being exported, we feed over 60 million people overseas plus the 25 million people in Australia (figures allowing for some wastage).

Compared to countries that rely heavily on food imports, this sets Australia in good stead to weather COVID-19.

Across the country the reality has set in that if agriculture isn’t prioritised through the pandemic, we may not have the food we have always eaten readily available.

Stage two restrictions of the Victorian COVID-19 lockdown came into effect on March 25, with the warning that stage three would be just around the corner.

The announcement made was that all non-essential businesses in Victoria were to cease trading.

Stage three restrictions came in not even a week later, which included restrictions of travel between states.

The issue was that no clarification was given immediately as to what essential businesses were.

Were the local trading stores essential?

What about mechanical repairs and machinery parts?

Agronomy?

Veterinary services?

With so many businesses supplying inputs and services to the farming sector, it was not clear if all of these would continue unaffected. 

At this point many trading stores across our region saw their busiest days on record.

Farmers were scrambling to secure the supplies they need; chemicals, seed, fertiliser and fuel.

Beef prices also peaked, with record numbers of stock bought by processors to both cater for the increased demand due to panic buying, and to get ahead in event of a shutdown.

In response to the confusion, the government made a press release confirming that agriculture is a priority.

“The Commonwealth is guaranteeing food production and supply as we deal with the virus’s spread,” Agriculture minister David Littleproud said.

“As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, food production and supply is an essential service.

“Feeding our nation is an essential service.

“That means state-imposed border shutdowns will not affect agricultural supply chains.

“The trucks carrying food and produce will get through to the shops.

“Feed, hay, fertilizer and other agriculture products will continue being delivered to farms.

“We’ve got plenty of supply and the freight lanes across the country are being kept clear.”

Mr Littleproud said Australians could be assured that their farmers will be able to keep producing the great food they’re renowned for the world over.

“This food will arrive fresh and on time at their local supermarket the same as it’s always done but they don’t need added pressure of senseless hoarding,” he said.

“Australians should stay calm and know Australian agriculture will be there for them.

“Maintaining food production, access to workers, agricultural supply lines, transportation and logistics is absolutely critical and will not be affected by any of the measures aimed at curbing the virus’s spread.”

Despite the reassurances of government, rumours of input shortages such as fertilizer, glyphosate and other chemicals still swirl.

It remains to be seen what impact the pandemic may have in this regard, if any.

The major effect agriculture may feel in the medium term as a result of the economic shut down is a knock to commodity prices.

The international dairy market is now looking shaky, which may have in impact on the opening price for the 2020/21 dairy season, due to be announced under the mandatory dairy code of conduct by June 1.  

Wool has already taken a major hit, with international demand waning as clothing and other textile manufacturing plants grind to a halt.

New season wheat prices are falling by the day, motivated by both good autumn rains and economic issues.

It remains to be seen if red meat prices will follow suit, but fat markets have already come off the boil when compared to March.

The upside is cheaper fuel, and as long as ships continue sailing and the Middle East remains open for business, urea prices are also expected to soften into the new financial year. A falling Australian dollar also compensates somewhat for lower market demand.

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