Coronavirus: Farmers tackle Moving Day during pandemic


South Canterbury dairy farmer John Gregan is one of many relieved the industry's traditional moving day went ahead this year.

Bejon Haswell/Stuff

South Canterbury dairy farmer John Gregan is one of many relieved the industry’s traditional moving day went ahead this year.

Fears the coronavirus outbreak would put a halt to their traditional moving day proved unfounded as dairy farmers upped sticks in their droves at the weekend.

Every year sharemilkers around the country move their cows, equipment and families to new farms on or around June 1, the first day of dairy farming year.

This year, the Covid-19 pandemic cast doubt over how the day would unfold, if it went ahead at all.

Concerns were raised in early April when, with the country in full lockdown at alert level 4, farmers began to question how movement restrictions and physical distancing guidelines would affect their plans.

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Up until five weeks ago, farmers were unsure if the day would get the green light.

However, on April 22, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said it was vital Moving Day went ahead as it was critical to the dairy industry and, subsequently, to New Zealand’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

Moving Day was straightforward for John Gregan and his stock.

Bejon Haswell/Stuff

Moving Day was straightforward for John Gregan and his stock.

With strict controls in place to help prevent the spread of the virus, farmers like South Canterbury’s John Gregan were cleared to hit the road.

In the end there wasn’t much difference from previous Moving Days, although there was a greater focus on contact tracing, Gregan said.

“There are the usual issues with shifting stock from one property to another,” Gregan said.

“However, everyone has to be marked on a contact list like any other business at the moment.”

STUFF

Dairy farmers worried their traditional moving day won’t go ahead this year.

Gregan said there might be pressure in getting the right workforce for the coming few months, particularly with the current restrictions on immigration.

“It’s a real concern to many farmers as it takes time to train people up and it’s harder to get people ready.”

Federated Farmers’ sharemilkers chairman Richard McIntyre said the prospect of moving between farms became simpler with every day that passed without a new case of coronavirus in New Zealand.

“There is more of an emphasis on cleaning the houses and physical distancing between the people doing the moving but it looks like it’s going very smoothly in general,” he said.

“It’s definitely easier than moving at the start of the M bovis.”

Federated Farmers sharemilkers chairman Richard McIntyre says moving farms during the coronavirus has been simpler than at the start of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

Stuff

Federated Farmers sharemilkers chairman Richard McIntyre says moving farms during the coronavirus has been simpler than at the start of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

In 2018, an outbreak of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis threw a spanner in the works for many farmers moving on June 1.

Fears the disease, which is passed from animal to animal by close contact and bodily fluids like mucus, would spread as farmers and their herds criss-crossed the country, led to more red tape and increased monitoring on Moving Day.

“We didn’t know much about M bovis or how it was spread and there was a lot more focus on sterilising trucks between loads and red tape which was time-consuming,” McIntyre said.

“This year is much simpler.”

However, some farm owners have run into trouble with staff refusing to move out of farm accommodation, citing a law passed to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic.

Under the new law, from March 26, tenancies can not be terminated unless the parties agree, or in limited circumstances, regardless of when notice was provided. The new rules will apply until June 26, when they will be reassessed by the Government.

“Some sharemilkers are coming on to the farm and there’s someone in the house that won’t move in the short term,” McIntyre said.

“Quite a few farmers have taken a pragmatic approach and said, ‘How much is it going to take you to move?’

“It shouldn’t be that way but they can’t be there, holding up the next person.”

Tenancy.co.nz residential property management consultant Scotney Williams​ previously told Stuff if the worker’s employment package included accommodation, and they were paying more than $1 for it, then they were considered to be a tenant, and did not have to move until June 26.