Tuesday, 07 April 2020 07:55

COVID-19: Proactivity praised

Written by  Peter Burke
MPI director general Ray Smith was just one of three staff working at MPI’s headquarters in Wellington last week – an office which normally houses 1200 people. MPI director general Ray Smith was just one of three staff working at MPI’s headquarters in Wellington last week – an office which normally houses 1200 people.

Primary food production is in business. But it’s not business as usual – as we used to know it.

That’s the message from the MPI director general, Ray Smith, speaking to Rural News from his office in Wellington. He says the organisation has been preparing for the events that have unfolded since January – when it became apparent that the virus would spread here.

Smith and his executive team have met every day since then to develop ways to manage the implications of Covid-19 in respect of the primary sector.

“When the lockdown came, we were ready for action and had our own critical services in place to support essential primary producers.” 

Smith was just one of three staff working in MPI’s headquarters in Wellington last week – an office which normally houses 1200 people. The rest of the Wellington-based staff are working from home. This includes include half the executive team, which has been done as a precaution in case there is a particular problem.

“We hold a two-hour conference call at the start of every day and then one later in the day to make sure we have all the plans in place to support the people working out there in the agricultural and horticultural sector.” 

About 90% of MPI’s staff are now working from home, but Smith says some staff, by the nature of their jobs, have to work out in the field.

“We also have people out on the road undertaking verification duties, there are still people who need to certify products for export and all those sorts of things that are needed to keep the systems flying. Some will still turn up on farm depending on what the circumstances are,” he says.

Smith says, for example, the M Bovis programmes will continue to run. However, MPI have had to make adjustments on how this is done during the lockdown.

“We can do that by doing many more things remotely and farmers are very comfortable with that. Huge progress has been made on the M Bovis programme and this will continue.” 

Smith says in February his department was involved in dealing with the logistical problems faced by exporters trying to ship product overseas – especially to the likes of China.

“We were very proud to see our primary producers and food beverage producers being able to maintain essential services status. 

“They do amazing work every day to feed all of us in NZ and to supply food to other nations so that they can feed their people.” 

Smith says the primary sector faces huge challenges. He says to comply with the new Covid-19 health requirements people can expect production to drop, in some cases, by between 30-50%. 

Smith recently spoke to 100 farming leaders on a video link about the crisis.

“I told them I can’t change the virus to suit the needs of your operation, but you do have the opportunity to change your operation to manage the transmission of this virus and everybody took that on board.” 

Smith says he’s been hugely impressed with the attitude of all the primary sector leaders to find innovative solutions and to yield a little where necessary to make things work.

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