Coronavirus here to stay, say farmers

Coronavirus is here to stay, say farmers

COVID-NORMAL: Badaginnie sheep producer Peter Holmes says he expects COVID-safe precautions to continue, for some time to come.

COVID-NORMAL: Badaginnie sheep producer Peter Holmes says he expects COVID-safe precautions to continue, for some time to come.


Farmers gear up for COVID-normal, but say it'll be little different from now.


Farmers across the dairy, horticulture and livestock sectors say they expect little change, under COVID-normal conditions, to what is already happening.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano has called on the state government for a "road map" for agriculture to point the way forward once the state reaches 70 and 80 per cent vaccination targets.

"It's not a matter of if, but when, the virus leaks into our regions and industry given the increasing numbers," Ms Germano said.

"It's critical we prepare now for that reality."

Badaginnie sheep producer Peter Holmes is one of several farmers - across several sectors - who expects many of the coronavirus precautions he's already adopted to continue, even after the state starts to open up.

"Nobody has come onto the farm, without me knowing about it, and I have checked to see if they have had their injections," Mr Holmes said.

"All my staff had two injections now, and we have work permits for people who come in regularly.

"I turn 74 in about week's time and consider myself in the 'catching pen - I may not die from it, but there would be lasting consequences."

Mr Holmes, who lives on the outskirts of Benalla, said only one person from the property went to town at a time and tried to avoid others, where possible.

"Because we are doing the sheep yard renovations, I have usually been (in town for equipment) at seven o'clock in the morning.

"We may well have to continue that, for some time anyway."

Even at shearing time, he said he'd be taking precautions such as curtains between the stands, distancing wool sorting tables and using an air conditioner to circulate air.

Cattle producer Richard Martin, Warrenbayne, who runs a cross-bred cattle herd, said once Victoria opened up, other than getting vaccinated, there was not much more people could do.

'We are just going to have to live with it and take our chances," Mr Martin said.

"It's always a concern, if it's around."

During the outbreak in Shepparton, some residents had come over to Benalla to shop.

Rick Townsend, Merrigum, said he was running beef cattle and was not relying on staff to help run the property.

'It's a family operation, others with staff would be facing problems, but we are pretty well set up."

Little change

Sanders Apples, Three Bridges, U-Pick apple orchard operator Kate Sanders, said she didn't expect things to change much any time soon.

The farm operated last year at a time that was "technically in that COVID-normal phase from February through May".

"It was just a matter of social distancing, QR codes, more frequent cleaning of the ticket box and toilets and opening more apple rows to spread out pickers," Ms Sanders said.

"It was helpful having done it last year, during COVID."

Sanders Apples owner Kevin Sanders said he was concerned about complacency.

"I think COVID is going to be with us for a long time, going forward I can see us still with COVID-safe practices in 12 months time," Mr Sanders said.

"In farming, there are a lot of very conservative people who don't believe what they read in the paper or see in the news, which is a real shame.

"There are a lot of people who don't take all the precautions they should, and if it gets into the community, it will get into it pretty hard."

He said mask-wearing and temperature checking would "just be part of what we do, going forward".

He said staff changed masks four times a day.

"There is 20 minutes productivity lost, every time we have a break, and it just racks up the cost," he said.

"Not that you moan about the price of it, that's part of the deal, if you want to run a business these are the rules."

Aerosols from coronavirus could stay in the air for 72 hours and were particularly dangerous in areas like cool rooms.

VFF Horticulture Group president Nathan Free, Wattle Organic Farms, Lake Boga, said agricultural professionals would face more regimentation, including QR codes, due to the higher risk of infection and transmission.

'No-one knows what it looks like post 70 or 80 per cent vaccination," Mr Free said.

"We need to look at how agricultural business can assist in the economic recovery and we are just trying to work out what happens in a regional area, if we have an outbreak."

Increased vaccination rates might mean more overseas workers could come to Australia.

"We have been screaming out for them, for a long time, even pre-COVID - it's not a new thing that there are not enough workers here now," he said.

"We need better information from the government as to how they are going to manage things, post-COVID.

"What happens if a packing shed in the Sunraysia region goes down because there are a couple of cases of COVID?

"Are they going to have Tier One, Two and Three sites, post 70-80 per cent?

'We need some clearer communication so the industry can prepare for that."

One packing shed could cover up to 20 farms, which would have a significant impact if there was a coronavirus breakout.

Major problem

Hazel Park dairy farmer Kelvin Jackson said primary producers had to adapt to ongoing coronavirus protocols.

He said it would be a major problem if coronavirus was to come onto farms.

"The biggest problem, of course, is everyone is supposed to isolate, but someone has to milk the cows, that's in a market where finding labour is almost impossible.

"At the same, with not being able to bring in anyone from overseas, it's a particular problem for dairying."

Whilst we have minimal contact with people, we do our best to stick to ourselves and only go out for necessary requirements, shopping, and what we need for the farm; I mostly do that so as not to expose the staff.

"There are no guarantees with this one, sadly."

He said farms had many areas, from the milking facilities to the calf rearing pens, that would need to be deep-cleaned if coronavirus was introduced.

Staff were fully aware of the risks involved.

"We are fortunate, in south Gippsland, we have been free from it," he said.


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