Farmers' markets hit by latest shutdown

Mixed impact on agriculture from latest coronavirus shutdowns

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Coronavirus
STAGE THREE: The area included in the reintroduced stage three lockdown.

STAGE THREE: The area included in the reintroduced stage three lockdown.

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Markets affected but livestock sales will face minor distruptions.

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Strict new coronavirus rules, governing Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, will have a significant impact on regional farmers markets, according to the president of the state's peak body.

The state government has reintroduced stage three lockdowns of metropolitan Melbourne councils and neighbouring Mitchell Shire.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he didn't want to impose the lockdowns, but the alternatives were too dangerous.

"We're on the cusp of something very, very bad if we don't take these steps," Mr Andrews said.

"Let's not see it as simply an inconvenience.

"It's much more than that. It's a pandemic.

"And it will kill thousands of people if it gets completely away from us."

Read more:

Coronavirus in Victoria: Metropolitan Melbourne re-enters lockdown

'Stay at home' rules strictly enforced

Victorian Farmers' Markets Association president Chris Hain said the organisation was still navigating through the latest announcement.

But he said at least a quarter of all sales at regional markets, before the pandemic, were to out of town visitors.

"We expect that markets in Melbourne will still operate, as buying food is one of the reasons people can still leave home," Mr Hain said.

"There has been no specific directive about markets for regional areas, but one of the things we are trying to work through is that people can't travel to regional areas.

"My interpretation is that you won't be allowed to leave the city to shop for food, that's unfortunate because some of those markets do depend on visitors from Melbourne."

He said markets in places like Tallarook, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Kyneton and Riddells Creek had benefited from additional patronage after the first phase of lockdowns was eased.

"The markets are still viable, but the takings are not as good as they might have been," Mr Hain said.

At the same time, residents of regional centres were shopping at farmers' markets more frequently.

"We are hoping that will make up for some of the shortfall," he said.

Read more:

COVID-19 no reason to shut down farmers' markets: VFMA

Farmers markets shut down sees shift to online sales

Border restrictions

Cross-border restrictions, between Victorian and NSW, have now come into force.

Truck drivers and workers in the agricultural sector, crossing the Murray River from Victoria, must apply for an entry permit, and carry it with them when entering NSW.

The permits are valid for 14 days and can be obtained through the Service NSW website.

Police and defence force personnel are guarding the border.

The website crashed, shortly after it went live, after heavy use.

The NSW government has advised that police will exercise discretion at the border over the next 48 hours while issues with the website are addressed, and parties adapt to the new border arrangements.

Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said the organisation had begun urgent conveersations with ministers and government agencies, in both Victoria and NSW, to ensure the border closure did not have an impact on agricultural industries

"We have been in constant discussions with the Cross Border Commissioner, the Victorian Agriculture Minister (Jaclyn Symes) her office, Agriculture Victoria and our counterparts at New South Wales Farmers Association," Mr Jochinke said.

The NSW Health Minister has issued a Public Health Order, in which agriculture and freight for commercial purposes will be allowed to move, freely, across borders.

Mr Jochinke said while a permit would be required, VFF was pleased that agriculture was specified in the Order.

"Our industry is a critical service and this is clearly acknowledged in this Public Order," he said.

"In the meantime, we have also focussed on the tightening of restrictions by South Australia and are seeking urgent clarification on this matter.

"Our industry is a critical service."

Mr Jochinke said given the circumstances more broadly for Victoria, it was agriculture that would be pivotal to the economic recovery of the state.

"Victoria's regional economy is worth $76 billion" he said.

"Our overall importance in that context must not be underestimated."

Government co-operation

The Victorian and NSW governments are working together to ensure our vital agriculture industry can continue to operate while the border is closed, says Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes.

"We are working closely with our Federal and New South Wales counterparts to ensure freight movements across the border can continue and our agricultural products can be delivered to market shelves across Victoria,' Ms Symes said.

"We know there are many farmers, agricultural workers and service providers that need to cross the border regularly to do their jobs - we are committed to ensuring we can support them during this difficult time."

While some impacts to the Victorian and NSW agricultural industries are anticipated, Ms Symes and NSW Minister Adam Marshall have committed to working through any issues that arise.

The NSW Government has declared agriculture, freight and logistics are critical services, supporting businesses across the border.

Both governments are also working to ensure regulatory requirments continue to be met, including necessary animal welfare practices and biosecurity requirments.

The extent of any impacts to agricultural industries will become clearer as details of how the border closure will operate are worked though.

Sales go ahead 

The operators of Northern Victorian Livestock Exchange, Barnawartha, said sales would continue, this week, and into the future.

The centre has listed 1600 store cattle, for sale, on Thursday.

Livestock Exchanges general manager Cye Travers said the organisation was doing its best to navigate through the available information that might impact operations at NVLX facility.

"To our knowledge, essential workers and freight and logistics companies will still be able to cross borders with appropriate permits," Mr Travers said.

RLX would continue to prioritise public health and safety and continue to monitor the most current state and federal government advice on the evolving situation.

Schubert Boers Craig Schubert, Lavington, said permits were easy to obtain.

"Our industry is classed as an essential industry, so there shouldn't be any problems,' Mr Schubert said.

Residents living within a 50 kilometre radius of the border should also be allowed to travel freely between Albury and Wodonga.

He said there would be some delays at the Murray River crossing, while people got used to the new restrictions.

Michael Unthank, Brian Unthank Rural, Albury, said he believed agents would be given permits, to cross the border, "to do our everyday jobs.

"It's more the tourist side of things, that is affected," Mr Unthank said.

"I'm not making the rules, but I wouldn't think there would be issues, I hope not, anyway."

Corowa's weekly sheep sales were going ahead, as planned, according to Clynton Rixon, of Corcoran Parker.

"I can't see there will be any problems, the biggest problem with the permit system was that it was under a fair bit of pressure," Mr Rixon said.

"The Corowa Shire Council has managed it very well, buyers and essential visitors, like transporters and saleyards operators, agents, can be there and it's working very well.

"There isn't one issue, and we are all taking the proper precautions, to keep Corowa going."

Transporter frustrations

Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria president John Beer said there had been confusion over cross-border movements.

"The most frustrating thing is that it takes authorities too long to tell us anything," Mr Beer said.

"It's good to hear something that is concrete."

Mr Beer said while the situation was serious, decisions appeared to be made in a "knee-jerk" fashion

Meanwhile, NSW authorities have closed a number of the 55 Murray River crossings, into Victoria.

Cars and heavy vehicles are being separated at Albury-Wodonga, while six sites have been identified as priority crossings, which will remain open.

They are:

  • Wodonga Place, South Albury
  • Hume Hwy, South Albury
  • Cobb Hwy, Moama
  • Newell Hwy, Tocumwal
  • Sturt Hwy, Buronga
  • Princes Hwy, Tambillica

The George Chaffey Bridge, which is the main river crossing in the Mildura region, remains open. The Abbotsford Bridge has been closed to traffic, except emergency vehicles.

In the Swan Hill-Echuca area, five of the eight crossings have been closed by authorities.

These include Tooleybuc, Nyah and Barmah (Mathoura) bridges and the Speewa ferry, as well as the Gonn Crossing.

Echuca-Moama, Barham and Swan Hill bridges remain open.

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