Here is our review of media relating to COVID-19 and agriculture. We look at major media outlets across the country to find out what issues are affecting the agricultural industry during this difficult time.

These updates are now provided weekly.

Please note, some articles will have a paywall, but we will try to provide a free equivalent story where possible.

6 May 2020

Markets

Though COVID-19 has crippled the US meat industry, that is unlikely to occur in Australia even though a processing plant has been hit in Victoria.

 

Cotton markets are bracing for more price falls and rising stockpiles as already overstocked global supply chains struggle with a 12 per cent consumption slump in the wake of coronavirus hitting textile milling activity and retail sales.

 

The wool market continued to feel coronavirus pain with the Eastern Market Indicator tumbling another 17 cents to 1208c a kilogram clean when wool sales resumed in Melbourne and Fremantle on Tuesday.

 

Interstate buyers are turning to Victoria as a prominent source for store cattle as farmers seek to capitalise on widespread rain and an early autumn break.

 

Rabobank’s recently released report suggests lamb prices will remain strong but wool will continue to soften, though potentially rallying later in the year. Though the closure of Cedar Meats has hit the lamb market in Bendigo and Victoria, as it was a major purchaser before the closure.

 

Supply and Demand

Australian farmers are expected to grow more barley than last year even though the early break through NSW, Victoria and South Australia means farmers there have more early-season options.

 

Rural Life

Businesses in the Mudgee and surrounding region say they’ll bounce back from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, using the resilience they’ve grown through years of drought and recent and devastating bushfires.

5 May 2020

Workforce

Despite high unemployment rates across the country, some communities in regional Queensland are desperate for workers. Emerald hopes that this may be an opportunity to attract workers in the long term, as the five month long citrus harvest is about to begin with none of the Pacific region workers who usually make up 60% of the workforce.

Markets

Agriculture is well set to weather the economic storm approaching, as late summer and autumn rainfall, a favourable seasonal outlook, the low Australian dollar and cheap fuel are buoying confidence in the grain and livestock industries.

Intense competition for a shrinking pool of young cattle, combined with uncertainty around grainfed beef demand on the back of food service shutdowns around the world, is putting the squeeze on lotfeeders.

Executives from two of Australia’s biggest dairy processors have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting markets in ways not seen before, raising concerns for the future of the industry.

Supply and Demand

Farmers are struggling to obtain fertilisers and chemicals for the upcoming growing season due to COVID-19.

The pearl oyster industry is struggling in the wake of COVID-19, but have found a silver lining in the spawning of two different species at the same time.

Demand for tea tree oil has increased around the world as the public thirst for sanitised surfaces spreads as fast as COVID-19.

A new business in WA is working to connect consumers to local produce had excellent timing when launching just as COVID-19 hit. A virtual farmers market can now service communities north of Perth with local produce.

Rural Life

The Royal Melbourne Show has been cancelled. This is only the 3rd time in the event’s 165-year history that it has been called off.

AgForce is set to take over Canegrowers, raising concerns that there will no longer be a single, dedicated voice for the concerns of canegrowers in Queensland.

WA’s Regional Chamber of Commerce has found in a recent survey that over three quarters of the state’s businesses were confident they would outlast the pandemic, a marked increase on previous surveys.

Western Australian pastoralists are concerned in a spike in feral animal numbers as gun shops were closed across the state.

Independent NSW politician Justin Field will move to repeal the government’s decision to hold digital public hearings for two controversial resource projects in the state’s north west.

Almost a quarter of bushfire-ravaged East Gipps­land’s economy will be wiped out this year, as a study shows the region will be Australia’s hardest hit in the coronavirus fallout.

30 April 2020

Fruit and vegetable growers are facing high production costs to ensure social distancing restrictions are enforced.

Grain Growers chairman Brett Hosking has come out against the business as usual regional train timetable, despite a 90% drop in patronage.

Regional Express is set to double flights to regional and remote areas, having received further funding from the federal government as well as some states.

Australian lavender producers are seeing a spike in online sales amid the coronavirus pandemic as consumers race to buy essential oils and pillow sprays.

29 April 2020

Food Supply and Demand

Australia’s largest flour mill, Manildra Flour Mill based in New South Wales’ Central West region, is increasing its production capacity, allowing it to produce an extra 50 million kilograms of flour by the middle of the year.

 

Coronavirus has failed to dent the sales of listed goat milk infant formula company Nuchev in the first three months of this year.

 

Markets

China’s Ambassador Jingye Cheng has suggested the demand for an independent inquiry into China’s handling of COVID-19 may lead to potential consumer boycotts on Australian exporters, affecting industries such as education, agriculture and tourism.

 

Climate News

Bioenergy could be the Morrison government’s next step in its emissions reduction strategy. Minister Angus Taylor said growth in use of bioenergy can reduce emissions, aid the agriculture sector and boost Australia’s fuel security. (See also here)

 

Solar, wind and battery storage now cheapest energy options just about everywhere.

 

The Conversation’s “Climate explained” series latest article: why higher carbon dioxide levels aren’t good news, even if some plants grow faster.

 

Rural Life

On her country mail run Jocelyn Flint delivers letters, boxes of wine, flat pack queen-size beds, asthma puffers, and even biscuits for morning tea to residents in Tasmania’s North West, who are under strict stay at home orders.

 

Australia’s second-biggest gold miner has warned the industry to be on “red alert” for fatigue and mental health issues among workers after the introduction of longer rosters as a result of COVID-19.

Rural medical bodies have come out in support of the government’s COVID-19 contact tracing app, saying it will be an important tool in the fight against the virus in regional and remote areas.

27 April 2020

Food demand

Farmers are ploughing millions of dollars worth of fresh produce into the soil and laying off workers as the coronavirus ban on dining at cafes, restaurants and pubs continues without an end in sight.

 

Demand for cheese, butter and milk up in Tasmania as Tasmanians turn to their own kitchens rather than dining out.

 

Demand for season produce boxes is on the up, assisting produce farmers struggling to sell without farmers markets.

 

Ag impacts

Australia’s agricultural sector must brace for a new wave of coronavirus impacts, the national farm commodities forecaster, the Agricultural Bureau of Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has warned.

 

Wet winter forecast should be good news for farmers, but they remain cautious about long-range modelling.

 

Workforce

Fonterra’s Cobden, Vic, milk plant is asking its 300 workers to do temperature checks on arrival, redrawing rosters to stop shift workers crossing paths, and spacing everyone at least two metres apart.

 

There are fears that NZ shearers will not be allowed into Australia for the spring shearing season, yet another potential hit to the struggling wool industry.

 

Rural Life

The Good Grub Club, a food charity in Daylesford Victoria, is delivering over 100 parcels each week to people impacted by the coronavirus — whether that be financially or socially.

 

The WA travel restrictions sare stranding horses thousands of kilometres away from their owners with no way of reuniting them.

 

Some rural communities are asking to be the first to be reopened as the risk of coronavirus is so low. However, the National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Paul Worley, has rejected the idea, saying no-one wants to see small towns treated like “guinea pigs”.

 

Drive through shopping is booming, with businesses in Western Victoria jumping on board the surge.

 

Some field days are turning to an online model in the wake of COVID-19.

 

Home schooling

Learning from home may make some rural parents aware of the massive city/country divide that can be included in curriculums.

Children being home from school can create difficulties for farm work, but also allows them to become more involved.

23 April 2020

Lockdowns

The lockdowns on the QLD/NSW border are making life difficult for border communities. In small border towns and farming communities, many residents now face extra hours of travel to get to the shops, go to work or make medical appointments.

 

Red meat producers throughout Australia impacted by recent bushfires can still access vital support to help with their recovery and rebuild amid COVID-19 restrictions, with a range of support programs now being delivered through online platforms.

 

Food Supply and Demand

Australian fruit and vegetable growers who supply the food service sector and have lost their avenue to market are being forced to destroy healthy crops, says the country’s peak industry body. There is lower demand from commercial industries and for highly perishable fresh produce, so ploughing the crop back in is the best option to avoid the high costs associated with picking and packing.

 

Markets

Global metal prices have seen the first sustained rise in months after the coronavirus pandemic sent them on an initial steep decline, as mines in Africa and South America close due to COVID-19.

 

Chinese beef demand is coming back online following the coronavirus blow. While it’s a long way from top gear, the outlook for demand across animal proteins from the world’s fastest-growing meat importer for the rest of 2020 is solid.

 

Rural Life

Queensland is bracing for the collapse of Virgin. The company is one of the state’s largest employers and is a key element of other industries such as airports, tourism, hotels, aviation training, travel agents and other suppliers.

 

With greater trust and a change in work culture due to COVID-19, those within the rural sector are optimistic the current working arrangements may eventually lead to greater acceptance for remote working and create more opportunities for those wanting to base themselves outside a capital city or major regional centre.

 

Though fuel prices are set to fall to around 80c/l, growers will not see immediate benefits, with fuel requirements for the imminent sowing period already in place.

 

Climate

The denial of science is among the top 10 risks to humanity, ranking alongside climate change, nuclear war, overpopulation and unregulated artificial intelligence (AI), a new report by the Commission for Human Future claims. The Commission is chaired by former Liberal leader John Hewson, who has been a scathing critic of the Coalition’s climate change policy.

22 April 2020

Workforce

Rural leaders are hopeful the readjustments to work patterns caused by COVID-19 could lead to more senior level employment and business opportunities in country Australia.

 

Markets

The good seasonal outlook means there is a change Australia’s cattle herd will shift from contraction to rebuild. Supply of saleable cattle is expected to start tightening from here, which should keep the market stable.

 

Weather

While some parts of NSW have received drought-breaking rain, the state’s south-east is still classified under “intense drought”, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries.

 

Rural Life

Regional Express has guaranteed 38 return flights will continue to operate across regional Australia over the next six months, and has applied to the federal government to increase that to 76.

 

AgQuip, one of the largest ag field days in the Southern Hemisphere, has been postponed from August to November.

 

There are concerns over petrol price gouging, as some areas in rural NSW are not seeing the benefit of the low cost of oil.

 

People in regional centres and isolated towns around Australia are worried they will be hard hit by the potential collapse of Virgin Australia, concerned they will face higher ticket prices and fewer flight options.

 

The justification for bans on the sale of firearms and ammunition in three Labor-controlled states has been questioned after it emerged the national cabinet had no active role in the moves, despite this being cited by state ministers and officials.

A region-by-region approach to re-opening hotels, rather than a statewide opening of the doors, has been suggested by the Queensland Hotels Association amid calls for some of the state’s most remote pubs to be able to resume trading across the bar.

21 April 2020

Workforce

Backpackers in regional South Australia are losing their jobs and being told to “go home” by local community members amid fears that they will spread coronavirus.

 

The Mid-Western Regional Council is introducing free online courses for local business owners hit hard by coronavirus-related shutdowns. The Mudgee Chamber of Commerce noticed that there was a two speed situation occurring in the town, with tourism, hospitality and retail heavily affected by shutdowns, while farming and mining are largely unaffected.

 

Food Supply and Demand

The Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia has hit back at the ABARES report labelling rice as playing a “modest role” in Australian food security.

 

Farmgate sales are increasing and fruit and vegetable producers are reinventing their supply routes after COVID-19 forced the closure of the hospitality industry nationwide.

 

Markets

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that the world’s major wool consuming countries will see a large decline in economic output in 2020 as a result of COVID-19, raising concerns about the future of demand for Australian wool.

 

Northern pastoralists are nervous as live export of steers out of Darwin has dropped more than a dollar a kilogram.

 

Australia’s industry representative for vegetable and potato growers believes the sector can continue to grow its produce with confidence, following a $110 million International Freight Assistance Mechanism investment by the Federal government.

 

Rural Bank is predicting that red meat and grain are going to be among the agricultural commodities that are most resilient. There had initially been some concern for livestock logistics in terms of the market selling system, the industry had come up with solutions and international demand still exists.

 

Rural Life

Premier’s across the country have declared that it will be regional and rural Australia that lead the economic recovery out of the pandemic.

 

The Federal Government has announced $52.8 million in emergency funding to evacuate rural and remote cases of COVID-19 to bigger centres.

 

Rural families are reporting that the NBN satellite services Sky Muster and Sky Muster Plus have stable connections, no slow-down speeds despite the unprecedented demand. This is making a significant difference to the home schooling that families across the country are being required to do.

Nutrien Ag is well set to supply WA farmers with the required fertiliser for the upcoming growing season.

The country’s largest rosella producer is going to host a virtual festival to ensure its largest crop to date does not go to waste.

20 April 2020

Demand

Beef sales rose 28 per cent in volume in March, led by hot demand for mince and sausages.

Some veggie producers – including micro herb producer George Bobin – are having to diversify as a result of the restaurant trade shut down which has lost them their markets almost overnight. The demand for artisan cheeses has also plummeted.

Logistics

Australia’s upcountry freight logistics systems are managing the added layers of complexity presented by COVID-19 well, with only low-level disruption. Ag’s supply chain generally is also holding up well.

Distilleries turn to hand sanitisers

Queensland’s iconic alcohol distillers are joining the fight against COVID-19, producing hand sanitiser (this is also happening in Kyneton, down here in Victoria)

Regional resilience

Large employers are having to turn to local labour sources in a move that the Regional Australia Institute predicts could boost longer term regional resilience.

Going online

There’s been a huge move towards online livestock auctions as a result of COVID-19, with predictions the shift could continue post-pandemic – with benefits for animal welfare. Cattle shows are now also moving online.

OH&S

Queensland farmers are developing their own COVID-19 protocols.

17 April 2020

Markets

The value of South Australian wine exports grew by 8 per cent to $1.87 billion in the 12 months to March 31, but with the value of the nation’s March exports to China almost half that of the same time last year, growers are being warned of more pain ahead.

Food Supply and Demand

Coles has slashed the price of mince, which butchers and producers view as an attempt to claw back customers.

ABARES researchers are reassuring Australians that we have excellent food security, it is logistics and demand surges that have led to empty shelves. (See also here)

Workforce

Regional Australia Institute chief economist Kim Houghton believes there is potential that this pandemic could make regional workforces more resilient.

Rural Life

Qantas and Virgin will reopen parts of their domestic network after the Federal government agreed to underwrite critical remote and metropolitan services.

NBN is establishing a financial relief fund to help internet providers to support their residential and small and medium business customers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. $50 million of the fund will go to low income households with school age children.

You can now do virtual wine tastings with the winemakers themselves, as certain wineries are not providing the cellar door experience online. Keith Tulloch and his son Alisdair are two of our farmers.

16 April 2020

Food Supply and Demand

Dairy is in high demand across Australia as a result of COVID-19, commercial supply is low but supermarkets sales are larger than ever. Australian dairy is fairing very well compared to much of the rest of the world, assisted by reduced production as farmers have left the industry. Though there is still concern over the high input prices, as relief for grain prices is unlikely until after harvest.

One of the largest American pork processing facilities has been shut down, which could have potential impacts on Australia’s pork supplies as we are not self sufficient. However, Australian pork chief executive Margo Andrae believes Australian pork is extremely resilient, they are confident sales and supply will continue in positive territory.

Markets

Lamb markets seems almost business as usual, though the market is still quite volatile due to COVID-19.

There are concerns that the Federal government’s clampdown on foreign investments in Australia could have unintended consequences for farmers, cutting off a potentially important source of funding for farmers who are struggling with liquidity.

Australian exporters struggling to secure loans have been given a $500 million lifeline by the federal government to help re-establish markets and expand operations damaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Environment 

Some of Australia’s biggest environmental organisations, including ACF and WWF, have asked the government to delay the completion of its statutory review of Australia’s EPBC Act, raising concerns over the impact bushfires and coronavirus will have on the review process.

Rural Life

ACM Media has stopped production of non-daily newspapers and closed 4 press facilities. ACM’s 14 daily newspapers and weekly agricultural publications are unaffected.

There are concerns that rural hospitals are still underprepared for a COVID-19 outbreak in their area, as some are yet to run simulations or order necessary supplies.

The Commonwealth has announced a $50 million package to support public interest journalism across TV, newspapers and radio in regional and remote Australia.

The Federal Government needs to urgently intervene to ensure Australia’s vulnerable – particularly those in regional and rural communities – are not left without vital supplies during the COVID-19 crisis, the union representing postal workers says.

15 April 2020

Food Supply and Demand

There is a large divide between demand for food and demand for fibre over the last few weeks. Livestock, dairy, grains and horticulture are seeing good prices and high demand, whereas wool, cotton and premium products are seeing massive slumps. Wool is at a near four year low, whereas the price for good slaughter lambs is almost 100c/kg dearer than this time last year. (For more on cattle see here)

Demand for potatoes has spiked. The potato is in high demand for its long shelf life, leaving businesses almost struggling to keep up. Though demand has settled, pressure will continue due to low summer productions.

Remote farms and big stations have been impacted by limits imposed by supermarkets, but assurances are now being put in place to ensure they can continue to stock their pantries as they need.

South Australian grape growers have had a tough year due to extreme heat, frost, wind, bushfires, smoke taint and now COVID-19. Yields are down between 50 and 80% in some regions, but the one positive of 2020 is that the quality is high.

COVID-19 has pushed beer consumption back 10 years, as an increase in home drinking cannot match the damage done by closure of pubs, restaurants and major events. Beer production is set forecast to fall by 82 million hectolitres in 2020 across the globe, and global barley stocks forecast to grow 21% over 2020/21.

Markets

Though recent high demand for food has been for largely cheaper products, there is potential for some of that demand to soon shift on to more premium products. Rural Bank has recently released a research report that sets out their expectations for demand over the coming months.

A number of agribusinesses currently have share prices higher than when the world’s stock markets began to crash in late February.

Lockdowns

Victoria’s recreational hunters and fishers are pushing back against the lockdowns.

Climate Change

Climate scientists say investment in climate following COVID-19 is essential and the best way to rebuild

Australia’s main electricity grid was powered by more than 50% renewable for the second time ever on Easter Saturday.

A new study has found that NSW’s lakes, rivers and lagoons are warming twice as fast as the ocean. This creates huge problems for the states fishing and aquaculture industry, with oysters being particularly vulnerable to the change.

13 April 2020

Workforce

The NT Farmers Association says it continues to be inundated with enquiries from people looking for a job, with up to 500 emails and phone calls coming through daily.

The agricultural sector is scrambling to ensure seasonal workers can come to properties for necessary work, without jeopardising their own safety and the communities they are travelling into. COVID-19 restrictions and risks of shutdown in the event of an infection are a challenge for horticulturalists whose businesses rely on itinerant and seasonal labour.

There are concerns that a perfect storm is brewing in rural communities such as Robinvale, as workers struggle to be accommodated without overcrowding and many from non-English speaking backgrounds potentially unable to understand critical health messaging.

A new report from The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work estimated about 30 per cent of Australian jobs could conceivably be performed from home.

Agriculture and environmental studies have been deemed “national priorities” for short term, reduced price courses to be provided by Australian universities in a bid to boost the education sector.

Food Security

Australian milk production was up 8.1% this February on the previous year, though  year-to-date production was down 2.6pc to the end of February. Milk production was up in all states, except Queensland.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, a group of irrigators have urged swift action on releasing water from the Murray Darling to ensure food security.

The NFF has hit out at 60 Minutes after the program tied water access to the country running out of food during the pandemic. The NFF in an open letter labelled it “reckless scaremongering”.

Fears have been raised in Australia over milk dumping following footage released from European countries, but the Australian Dairy Farmers president Terry Richardson that there is little risk of that occurring in Australia. The dairy industry has formed a National Response Group to ensure a united response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining supply chains and product quality, and protecting the health and safety of farmers and workers.

Central Queensland cattle producer Melinee feels that the current pandemic has done wonders for awakening Australians to the importance of biosecurity in agriculture.

Demand

Though much of agriculture is well placed to deal with the pandemic, smaller producers who supply directly to restaurants, cafes and hotels are struggling after demand has dropped by up to 90%.

Boutique businesses reliant on farm gate sales and tourism are struggling in this crisis, as shutdowns and reduced demands in what is usually a peak period leave them concerned for the future.

The Limestone Coast town of Robe has seen its local boutique businesses shift to home delivery, in a bid to help the local economy which is so dependent on tourism.

Hundreds of tonnes of watermelons have been left to rot in a Central Australian paddock while underemployed international workers watch on.

Markets

After hitting a record high in February, the National Australia Bank’s Rural Commodities Index jumped another 5.8 per cent in March, energised by better seasonal conditions, the devalued dollar and solid domestic demand for farm sector produce.

Dairy analysts are warning the COVID-19 crisis will put pressure on global dairy prices well into 2021 and will hit opening prices in Australia.

There are glimmers of hope in wool market as indicators rise slightly after the biggest drops in years, though the prices are likely buoyed by the reduced product available to purchase at the markets.

Bushfire Recovery

Many victims of this summer’s bushfires feel they are being forgotten in the wake of the global pandemic.

8 April 2020

Increased Demand

Flour suppliers say there is no shortage of flour in Australia and the supermarket shelves are empty only because people are stockpiling more than they need. Even with retailers limiting the number of packets customers can buy, the flour mills simply cannot get their product delivered fast enough to re-stock supermarkets.

Markets

Saleyards across the country have been making massive changes to respond to COVID-19, but the industry is divided on whether this has been good or bad.

Lentil prices have skyrocketed to over $800 a tonne as pulse markets watch the situation in India, who is trying to sure up it’s food security.

Export restrictions put in place in Russia and the Ukraine are unlikely to have tangible impacts on world supply, but could potentially be precursors to further restrictions in the future.

Dairy analysts are warning the COVID-19 crisis will put pressure on global dairy prices well into 2021 and will hit opening prices in Australia.

Supply Chains

In Perth, people are celebrating the lowest fuel prices in a decade, but the price drop is not being seen across the state.

Government and agricultural industry bodies are confident the cropping supply chain will continue to flow, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Minister Littleproud has assured growers that supply chain logistics are being closely monitored.

It has been a very hectic period for GrainCorp as they adapt to demerger from United Malt and figure out how to respond to the COVID-19 situation as it rapidly unfolds. The wet start to the season has also meant fertiliser demands are high, as well as a low Australian dollar allowing Australia to be very competitive in the export market.

Workforce

Victorian farmers are reluctant to take on harvest labour from the city for fear of introducing coronavirus to their workforce, as the Andrews Government pours $50 million into retraining displaced workers to take up farm and food processing jobs.

Isolation and Movement

A movement form introduced by the NT Government would mean some pastoralists would need a form to travel on their own properties, making the process impotent, says the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association.

For families in isolated parts of rural Queensland, the new rules are having no impact on the way they learn and engage with others.

Regional airline Rex is hanging on for dear life after a 98% fall in passenger numbers as a result of COVID-19.

7 April 2020

Supply Chain

The WA transport industry is working through the challenges of the regional border closures.

Machinery salesman still optimistic that equipment imports will continue.

Plans to restructure the dairy industry have been put on hold to as a result of the pandemic.

Markets

Though Australian agriculture is well placed to weather the COVID-19 storm, it is unlikely it will come out unscathed. Improving seasonal conditions, leaping grain prices, cheaper fuel and an export-friendly dollar won’t necessarily be enough to shield it. Dairy, sugar, sheepmeat, cotton, wool and wine values were already feeling the blowback from coronavirus’ market disruption. (See also here and here)

Good and bad news for the red meat market.

The first shipment of Australian persimmons arrived in Thailande on one of the last remaining flights out of country due to COVID-19 restrictions. The product sold out almost immediately. Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the shipment showed the commitment to expanding market access for Australian agricultural products, even during unprecedented and challenging times.

The dive in the Australian dollar recorded since mid-January is influencing wheat prices, which exceeded $400 a tonne last week. Other influencing factors include changes in food consumption as a result of the virus and countries becoming unwilling to export.

Workforce

Farmers have been warned that though isolation is the norm, they are not immune from the virus and flow on effects from government restrictions.

Scams

The competition watchdog has warned of scammers now trying to exploit Australians who are suffering financially due to COVID-19. Scammers are cold calling and claiming to help with early access to super. They are also using emails, and it has been advised to never follow a hyperlink to the myGov website.

Research

Ag research is able to continue despite the pandemic, though new protocols are being put in place to ensure that staff health and safety is paramount.

Event Cancellations

The cancellation of the Royal Queensland Show has left many wondering what to do. Producers have prize winning goods such as 100kg pumpkins and jars of jam that now have nowhere to go. The QCWA is going to miss out on a major fundraiser. They are looking into other ways of selling their preserves and handmade goods so they can continue to fundraise for community projects.

The NSW CWA is serving virtual scones in the wake of the closure of the Sydney Royal Easter Show. The CWA usually raises $150,000 a year at the show. By purchasing a virtual scone or devonshire tea, you will receive the famous CWA recipe to make at home.

Travel Restrictions

The limited reasons for travel and going through border checkpoints in WA are set out in this ABC article.

Climate Change

ANU Professor John Hewson says “there is every reason to expect that the virus crisis will strengthen and accelerate the imperative to transition to a low-carbon world by mid-century”.

ANU scientist Dr Andrew Glikson says “the world’s gaze may be focused on COVID-19 right now. But the risks to nature from human-made global warming – and the imperative to act – remain clear.”

6 April 2020

COVID-19 cases

There are now 212 cases of COVID-19 in regional Victoria (as of Sunday morning)

Education

Victorian Year 12s could have their VCE extended into 2021, Dan Andrews has flagged. Kinder now free (see also this story on ABC)

Demand for food

31% of produce is being wasted before it leaves the farm – but right now this is being alleviated as supermarkets and consumers are being less picky about the size and shape of their fresh food as a result of the pandemic.

Producers who sell directly to the public are seeing an unprecedented spike in demand as customers increasingly look for ways to avoid supermarkets.

Research continues on

Ag research is continuing on – BCG is tweaking its plans to continue with trials.

Fuel

Farmers are stockpiling cheap fuel.

Workforce

Backpackers will be allowed to extend their stays to ensure farmers have enough labour to plant and pick crops.

Wool prices down

Demand for wool is down, and AWI has pulled the pin on most of its marketing campaigns while the pandemic continues.

COVID-19 and climate change

Coronavirus makes the low-carbon transition more urgent

Pollution and emission reductions are expected to be short-lived (this article agrees, finding that while we’re expecting the biggest drop in carbon emissions since World War Two, without structural change this won’t last)

New ClimateWorks report finds Australia’s economy has two in three chance of hitting net zero emissions by 2050 with the right government action and ClimateWorks chief executive says the need for immediate action is even more urgent as governments begin planning how they’ll stimulate their economies once the crisis has passed.

Climate change will make health crises like coronavirus more frequent and worse

Coronavirus pandemic is leading to cleaner air – but is holding back climate change research and complicating the conversation.

Jane Fonda is running workout sessions online to draw attention for climate change and the need for action.

3 April 2020

Market outlook

Rabobank’s April AGribusiness Monthly report predicts despite the market challenges of COVID-19 Australian agriculture is well placed to ‘weather the COVID-19 storm”.

Supply chain

Roadhouses get exemptions so trucks can keep going

Demand for food

The avocado industry has taken a hit with the shutdown of cafes and restaurants.

Beer and pizza being flown into NT cattle stations

Online

AustralianFarmers showcases some of the online conferencing and chat forums people are turning to (but doesn’t mention Zoom, which is our program of choice). Houseparty allows groups to play games and quizzes while they chat.

NBN is changing to deal with projected increases in online traffic – every Australian internet provider can order increased nbn network capacity of up to 40% for three months, at no cost, while customers with SkyMuster services will have download limits significantly increased for three months.

Rural Australians may end up better connected to essential and recreational services than ever before – telehealth, dance lessons and more.

Non-Covid-19 news

Farmers working with French entrepreneurs to develop a product that uses rye to make environmentally friendly straws.

2 April 2020

Travel Restrictions

Some country doctors and shire councillors are pushing for the closure of shire borders to prevent the spread of the virus into vulnerable rural communities. The suggestion is being backed by David Littleproud.

Workforce

In Western Australia, DPIRD has joined with the ag sector to create an online information hub that would help connect regional employers with casual skilled and unskilled workers. This will hopefully ensure a constant supply of workers to farms when required, while also limiting the spread of disease by reducing the need to travel to secure work.

A new Victorian scheme will help farmers meet their workforce needs. Agriculture Victoria and Regional Development Victoria are working together to match displaced workers to vital industries such as horticulture, dairy, meat and food production and manufacturing, as well as transport and logistics services. They intend to match people within their regions to reduce health risk.

Longreach shearer Raelene Bowden has isolated herself and her team of 15 to protect themselves from the spread of COVID-19. Raelene has put in place strict rules to ensure that they can keep working, including graziers and all others staying outside the shed, they will not go into town, food will be placed onto their utes and separate dwellings have been arranged on all properties. Raelene says the team is on board with the plan and are committed to it for as long as it takes.

The horticulture industry is ramping up pressure on the federal government to extend working holiday visas. Many backpackers are stuck in Australia despite their visas coming to an end. These workers will be essential to getting fruit and vegetable crops off, as approved Pacific Island workers under the Season Work Program are no longer allowed into the country.

Outback stations are implementing strict safety measure to protect themselves from COVID-19. The Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) has banned visitors to its 26 stations, new staff and anyone away from the property temporarily must self isolate for 14 days in designated locations, staff temperatures are checked daily, gear is sanitised after use and staff are no longer allowed in vehicles together and a range of other measures.

Australian Pork Limited’s Hospo4Hospo program launched in Perth. The program will offer free meals to support hospitality industry staff who have lost their job in the shutdown.

Markets

Despite the sharemarket posting its worst trading month since 1897, farmland investments are looking brighter as agricultural investments returned 13% last year (5% from income and 7.7% from assets). Demand for farmland last year outstripped supply, as many were hesitant to sell during the bad season. Ag is looking like a very strong investment for a diversified portfolio.

Australian barley has been in high demand from China, particularly following the closure of Russian exports and the low Australian dollar. This appears to have caught some domestic market consumers napping as domestic prices increased at the same time, discouraging purchases. The wheat balance sheet is tight, and another rush on barley exports could lead to a similar issue there.

Eggs are in high demand at the moment to keep up with the surge of home cooking and baking. But not all farmers are well placed to benefit, as those supplying commercial needs lost significant proportions of their business overnight. Though they are able to transition into the supermarkets and home deliveries.Biosecurity, food hygiene and handling procedures have been stepped up to keep delivering the 17.2 million eggs eaten everyday during the pandemic.

Rate Freeze

The Victorian Opposition and the VFF are calling for rate freezes to protect vulnerable households and businesses. The draft council budgets are set to be released. Despite the 2% cap on rate increases, there is no such cap on municipal charges. The Mornington Peninsula is currently flagging a 15.49% increase in municipal charges.

Animal Welfare

There are concerns that rescue horses in Tasmania will need to be euthanased as the lockdown measures have crippled the business of one equestrian facility. The lack of income is making it increasingly difficult to keep the horses fed. Animal welfare will also be a challenge for the racing industry, said Tasracing chief executive Paul Eriksson, once the industry’s income was lost.

Education

A  MLA program that allows school children to virtually visit sheep and cattle farms has come into its own as children work from home. Children being comfortable in their learning space has led to different and more engaging questions about what farmers actually do.

1 April 2020

Farmer Sentiment

A recent survey of 700 producers Australia wide showed almost a third felt the overall farm economy could improve, with another third expecting it to continue performing in the next six months much as it has been. Over half said the COVID-19 had led to no obvious changes in their day to day operations. “For the first time in a while those in the ag sector seem better positioned than most to manage their way through this crisis” said Karen Rogers, ACM agricultural research,

Exports

Air freight is set to commence again, with fresh produce being delivered to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE from Australia. The return flights will bring much needed medical supplies back to Australia. The federal government will spend $110 million to coordinate the flights, which will largely assist the seafood sector, red meat, dairy and horticulture. (See here  and here also)

Some dairy companies are tipping exports to China may return to normal by the middle of the year. China is coming out of the lockdown.

Though wool auctions are continuing across the country, many export markets have shut down causing serious price pressures. Though other major exporters have closed sales, the demand in large markets such as Italy, India and the US has significantly reduced. Australia is left reliant on China, which is reopening factories. But much of what China purchases is sold to other markets, which will continue the challenge on prices.

Demand

Past-president of the NSW CWA Annette Turner said that panic buying is severely impacting remote communities that rely on stocking up to feed their families. She recently did a six hour round trip to go to the shops and was greeted with empty shelves and restrictions on how much she could purchase, leaving her uncertain about where she can get food to feed her 4 children.

Declines in sales in bakeries, cafes and other retailers nationwide means their mil consumption has been slashed by 60%. Retail restrictions have led to erratic results in domestic milk sales over the past fortnight. There has been a significant upswing in sales of longlife milk. Fonterra Suppliers Group chairman John Dalton said “in the end, the economic situation out of coronavirus hits everyone, every town”.

Queensland wool garment maker Merino Country is rapidly repurposing its business and machines into the production of masks in order to help meet demand from the public for personal protective equipment.

Health

There are now 173 cases of COVID-19 in regional Victoria, jumping 27 from yesterday. Rural Victorian health chiefs are pleading with health departments to stop centralising the coronavirus response and redeploy specialists and equipment to vulnerable country hospitals. Large towns like Portland have no dedicated intensive care unit beds. Western District Health Service CE said they’ve increased ICU beds from 2 to 6-8, though 11,000 in the council area are expected to get the virus.

Many rural communities are at a greater risk of COVID-19. The risk is greatly aligned with older populations and higher concentrations of health problems linked to COVID-19 death, so areas along the east coast and Tasmania have some of the lowest health index scores. This interactive map shows the risk levels by electorate.

Supply Chains

There are calls for farmers and food processors to be given priority testing for COVID-19 to ensure food supply.

Workforce

Ord River district farmers are left uncertain about whether to plant their crops as they may not have access to labour for harvesting. Ceres Farm managing director Matt Gray said his business was unlikely to get the staff needed for the watermelon and pumpkin harvest. He is reluctant to spend the $20,000/ha continue the planting of staggered crops. Regional travel restrictions in WA are stricter in the Kimberley.

Saleyards

Now that panic buying and selling has eased, domestic meat sales have eased. There is great uncertainty in the export markets, but there is hope in airfreight. The message from the industry is that livestock markets are operating differently, but are coping with the restrictions and still delivering decent returns to farmers. Lamb prices have fallen from their dizzying highs of the past 6 weeks. The lamb market was firm compared to the previous week, but down around 100c/kg month-on-month. (See here also)

Bull stud sellers have been rewarded for their perseverance in selling despite COVID-19, as high prices were returned despite the use of online auctions and social distancing.

Rural and Regional Tourism

CEO of the Murrindindi Shire Council (which covers  the towns of Eildon, Kinglake, Marysville, Alexandra and Yea) has begged tourists to stay away over the Easter long weekend after a surge of visitors on Saturday. Eildon is yet to have a case of COVID-19, and he wants it to stay that way as the shire has an older population.

Firearm Restrictions

Travel restrictions and bans on sales of ammunition and firearms for recreation shooters has put an end to recreational hunting until pandemic is over. Recreational hunters have argued they are exercising their right to hunt for food. The ban on firearm and ammunition sales in Victoria were in response to an increase in sales.

After uproar from the Queensland primary production sector, the state government has lifted the blanket ban on firearm and ammunition sales, allowing sales to primary producers and other industries that rely on weapons.

Bushfire Response

BlazeAid has had to seriously adjust its practices for assisting bushfire victims. Grey nomads make up the bulk of the workforce, but they are also at the greatest risk of contracting a severe case of COVID–19. Operations at most camps are now continuing under strict hygiene codes, but the Adelaide Hills camp was forced to close. The camps are now closed, once a volunteer leaves, they will be unable to return.

Coping in Isolation

As the nation is faced with a tough outlook for the coming months with mental health, Dr Grant Blashki (Beyond Blue) said there is a lot we can learn from farmers’ bonds with animals.

Climate Change

Coronavirus is a wake up call for the way we treat the environment. They might sound unrelated, but the COVID-19 crisis and the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply connected. Each arises from our seeming unwillingness to respect the interdependence between ourselves, other animal species and the natural world more generally.

Education

Broken Hill School of the Air top 10 tips for parents teaching kids at home.

31 March 2020

Exports

Victorian farmers could be set to capitalise on China’s demand for cleaner and better foods as they try to build their economy back up. Dairy in particular will likely face an incredible increase in demand. However, there are potential concerns as the current situation shows disadvantages of a high dependence on a narrow number of markets.

Stimulus

Farmers are calling for cash injections to ensure that they have the cashflow to plant their crops. Stimulus measures that will provide a tax deduction at the end of the financial year are useless for farmers who need the capital now. Though areas may be greener than they have been for a long time, this does not provide them with what is needed to prepare the ground for sewing says Dubbo mixed farmer, Tracy Blackburn.

Markets

New regulations had little impact on price outcomes at the week’s store sale at Wodonga. Though crowds were down, prices remained around the same.

Supply chains

It is likely Australia has enough tyres in stock across Australia to keep us on the road for at least this season and is not facing major supply issues at this time. Though certain other wheel parts such as rims, bearings, axles and studs are being delayed by supply chain issues out of China and Italy.

Workforce

Australian citrus farmers are asking the Federal Government to exempt the industry from the inbound travel ban to allow workers from the Pacific Island nations to come in for the year’s harvest which is due to begin within the fortnight. The industry is encouraging those left unemployed to head to rural and regional Australia to help with harvests.

Cherry farmer Fiona Hall in Orange has introduced strict rules to ensure that her workforce remains COVID-19 free. Backpackers and workers will lose their job if they go to Sydney, they are not allowed to socialise together, they can’t have friends to visit or leave to see them, they must avoid other foreign backpackers who have lost their jobs and they can only work and interact with those they share a living space with. They can leave the farm to shop. Hall believes the draconian measures will protect them. But this attitude is not shared by all farmers, who require workers for crops to be planted and harvested.

Bushfire Areas

Bushfire-hit farmers across Victoria receiving fencing funds from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning have received follow-up invoices from the department that will force them to pay GST.

Water

Irrigation farmers in the MDB are calling for more water to be released for food production. The move comes as major exporters such as Vietnam and Russia limit exports to ensure domestic supply and commodity prices are high. The demands will help ensure that Australia can grow enough of essentials such as wheat and rice.

Direct Sales

Producers who sell directly to restaurants are scrambling to survive. Businesses are being forced to search for alternate supply chains, including unsustainable home delivery. There was further concern that this would allow large producers to further dominate the market share going forward.

Essential/Non-essential Services

Gun shops in QLD have been classified as non-essential service and are being forced to shut down. One north QLD pest controller said this animal welfare, public safety and businesses will suffer. In WA gun shops have closed to the general public, with certain exceptions for primary producers, professional pest shooters and indigenous Australian with native title rights to hunt. Victoria has also restricted sale of firearms and ammunition as there has been a rise in attempts to access firearms, though this does not affect primary producers.

Victorian Nationals have added to the calls for food supply chains to be deemed an essential service in the light of the latest coronavirus lockdowns for the state. To date the Victorian Government has dismissed the issue, with Ag Minister Jaclyn Symes saying it was an unprecedented situation which requires careful management. Minister Symes tweeted that the government was doing everything to ensure agribusiness could keep operating, but no formal protections have been put in place.

Rural Health

Air medical services are desperately trying to access more planes and helicopters to prepare to evacuate seriously unwell COVID-19 patients from rural and regional areas. Doctors are worried that 1000s may die as smaller hospitals are not designed to care for patients who need ventilators.

Professor Patrick McGorry, who helped start Headspace, has called for an urgent overhaul of the mental health system as he fears the psychological impact of COVID-19 could resemble the Great Depression. An economic depression has the potential to have more damaging effects than the virus itself. It is also likely that the virus will exacerbate existing mental health issues.

Wentworth is looking at facing COVID-19 without a GP. A third of the 1600 person population is aged over 55, and the shire council encompasses close to 8000 people. There are currently 245 vacancies for rural GPs across the NSW.

Food Waste

Food rescue charities such as OzHarvest have received a short term lifeline from the hospitality industry, who have donated much of their leftover food to charities over the last week. However, this won’t continue, and the panic buying has led to a decrease in regular donations.

FarmHub is bringing together all of the latest COVID-19 key information for agriculture.

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