SE border contractor hopes for smooth run

Crunch time approaching for Victoria, SA harvest contractors

Coronavirus
CRUNCH TIME: Binnum Farm Enterprises hay contractor Jeremy Boddington is hopeful a national ag worker movement code could minimise disruptions to his work this spring.

CRUNCH TIME: Binnum Farm Enterprises hay contractor Jeremy Boddington is hopeful a national ag worker movement code could minimise disruptions to his work this spring.

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Back to the status quo for border farmers, contractors.

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About half of South East ag contractor Jeremy Boddington's business is on the Vic side of SA-Victorian border.

While he has been able to delay interstate fencing jobs, he says it is nearly crunch time to work out his hay contracting schedule.

The re-instatement of the cross border zone will enable him and his staff to service about half of their Victorian clients, as long as they have weekly COVID tests.

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But Mr Boddington said the remaining half, further into the Victorian Wimmera, is more uncertain.

Discussion on the National Agricultural Workers Code has given Mr Boddington hope of a more common sense approach to ag travel across borders.

"Primary production is at the forefront of the country and it all has a flow-on effect - in our case if we can't help make the fodder to feed the animals to get the red meat to the supermarkets, everything stops," Mr Boddington said.

Aside from the potential financial hit to Binnum Farm Enterprises, he said he would not leave his clients of the past 12 years near Dimboola and Warracknabeal, to try and find a Victorian baling contractor.

"They are already fully booked and there is a high chance of above-average rainfall so farmers are even more anxious about getting it in the bale this year," he said.

He acknowledged he is lucky compared with some in regional Victoria, whose lives have been thrown into turmoil.

But he said the worst case scenario of quarantining for 14 days on his return to SA would have a big impact on his life and business.

"The other problem is you are over there and it rains and you are caught for a week - what do you do? You just have to stay there," he said.

He hoped more lenient cross-border travel can be considered, especially as he is working alone in an area with low COVID-19 risk.

Mr Boddington said if some "black and white" procedures could be agreed upon by the states, there would also be the potential to take on new acreage in NSW.

That would help make up for the 30pc drop in lamb prices and wool prices from their farm income.

Victorian harvest contractors remain hopeful current border restrictions will be further loosened soon - but warn time is running out to get staff and equipment into NSW and Queensland.

One Victorian contractor has threatened to bombard Services NSW with emails, until his company is granted a permit.

Mick Findlay, Mercon Harvesting, Echuca, said he was still waiting for a response on whether or not he could get his equipment and staff, into NSW

Mr Findlay has seven headers, as well as fuel tankers, maintenance trailers, vehicles, cooks and other staff, ready to go.

He wants to head to the Walgett area, in northern NSW.

"We have hounded Services NSW for the past four weeks and they keep sending us information requests that are exactly the same as the last,' Mr Findlay said.

"But I'm more persistent than most so they will get 50 emails a day for the next year unless they approve a permit.

"If nothing else comes of it at least I know I have been a tick in their side"

Mercon had a COVID-Safe plan, as did all the farms that had contracted it.

Full details needed

Craig Whinray, who lives just south of Yarrawonga, said he had another property in NSW, outside of the recently reinstated "border bubble."

"Not much has changed, everyone is waiting to see how this pans out - there have been steps in the right direction, but the full details need to be thrashed out," Mr Whinray said.

"I know people who have still been able to get across the border, others have been turned around."

Mr Whinray said it should be up to border authorities to determine who could cross into NSW.

Based in Almonds, Mr Whinray said he and his family required access to their NSW farm to apply fungicide to their crops.

He was still being told he had to travel to NSW by aircraft, via Sydney airport, despite living 15kms from the NSW border.

"Farmers want to do the right thing but the restrictions are completely unworkable for many cross border farmers like myself,' Mr Whinray said.

"The 100km ag permit exemptions are a positive start but more must be done to ensure agricultural production can continue"

He said he was travelling from one area, where there was no coronavirus, to another which had also not experienced any infections, and was unlikely to see anyone in between the two farms.

Mr Whinray said he was concerned that if the paperwork wasn't right, farmers might be doing something illegally.

"I know, from their point of view, they have to protect themselves from COVID-19, but NSW has the potential to have one of the best harvests in years - they've being dong it tough ip there, and they need help to get the harvest off.

"We just want to make sure we are ticking all the boxes and doing the right thing, that's all every farmer wants to do."

SA borders

Telopea Downs, Victoria, spray contractor Russ Merrett said hadn't had to cross over into South Australia, although he didn't feel there would be any problems when he needed to go for machinery parts.

"I understand we are basically back to where it was, as long as you are in that 40km bubble, you don't really have any dramas - you get your test done, and you are free to cross

"Outside the 40km zone there are still issues there but we can get across when we need to."

He said SA authorities required cross border travellers to get tested, and they could do so at Bordertown.

"In Victoria you are not allowed to get an asymptomatic test," he said.

Some farmers and workers were getting tested, two or three days before they needed to travel into SA, and the result would be valid for seven days.

"Some people are getting tested every five dyas just so you always have that valid test.

"We are trying to avoid it as much as we can, we're just trying to do the right thing."

Daniel Feder, who farms on both sides of the border at Serviceton, , and Bordertown, SA, says it was better, now the cross border paths had been reopened.

He lives at Woolsley and said it was getting closer and closer to harvest.

"I went through a restricted road, which we are allowed do, and I got pulled over by the police," Mr Feder said.

"But I had all my paperwork, so it was okay.

"Come harvest time, I hope that's not happening - we will be using every road we need to use."

He said he hoped farmers would not have to line up at checkpoints, every time they delivered grain, as they would also then have delays at the silos.

"We'll wait and see, see what they have planned," he said.

"We're taking it week by week, but it hasn't been too bad for us, lately."

A Victorian government spokesperson said the state continued to work closely with its interstate counterparts, including NSW, on cross-border movement for agricultural workers.

"NSW's agricultural workers permit allows Victorian farmers and agricultural workers to travel up to 100km into NSW for work," the spokeswoman said..

"We expect further refinements as we work with NSW to implement the Agriculture Workers' Code recently agreed by some states, including NSW, at National Cabinet."

Exemptions for individuals needing to move beyond the 100km limit in NSW, for work, are considered on a case-by-case basis.

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