Monday, 11 May 2020 09:22

COVID-19: Farming continues while pollution falls

Written by  Dr Jacqueline Rowarth

Dr Jacqueline Rowarth on how the agriculture and horticulture sectors are supporting New Zealand through the COVID-19 pandemic.

OPINION: New Zealanders have been urged to order food from outlets that don’t use Uber, and to be extremely careful using Tinder.

The first is because of expenditure (Uber apparently takes 35% of the bill). The second is because of COVID-19 and potential to transmit the virus. (NRL players have been forbidden to use the app and the difficulty of maintaining 2m distance must be acknowledged.)

It is probable that rural dwellers will find it easier to comply with these requests than those who live in urban districts. It is possible that rural dwellers have never used either of the two services. It is also possible that rural dwellers are wondering about how much money is evaporated on services that make it easier to spend more money on services. 

Only the cynic would wonder whether this expenditure could explain some of the difficulty in saving enough for house ownership. That cynic might also wonder why the Government is putting so much money into keeping the services afloat, while the rural workers continue their essential business, but under increasingly difficult and expensive circumstances.

The answer on the farm is that this is what farmers do: keep on keeping on. Bound by the rhythm of the animals and crops, the future is decided by what is done now. 

The Government is supporting the towns because they buy the food that is produced. This assistance is happening all around the world. It enables people overseas to buy New Zealand goods, and vice versa.

On the global market, New Zealand produces what the world wants – food that is natural, wholesome and good for you. People want foods that they can trust, and with the surge in home cooking, food that is easy to prepare and tastes good. 

The Government is relying on this demand for good food for the future economic growth of New Zealand. It also wants the tax revenue gained from profitable businesses so that it can invest in all the promised infrastructure developments (as well as pay back the burgeoning debt). Many economists have commented that the grunt work is being done by those who work on the land.

Consumers, whether urban or rural, will remember.

Within the literature that is being created around the COVID-19 pandemic, there are important messages. Professors Pederson and Ritter issued one such message in April in the Harvard Business Review. In an article on ‘Preparing your business for a post-pandemic world’ they reminded us that ‘Consumers will remember how you reacted during the crisis’. They suggested that putting up prices would be a bad move as it would damage future relationships.

Uncertainty in how the world will look post-pandemic does not help in making predictions, and the general feeling in economists and financial advisors is that nobody can really tell what will happen beyond the next 6-12 months.

Except that people will remember the sectors that helped them get through – agriculture and horticulture.

They might also remember that the air became cleaner during the pandemic, and that the rivers ran clear. The environmental impact of reduction in transport has been noticed globally. The clarity of waterways has featured on RNZ with commentators noting bird song and clear water… because building and roadworks had stopped. No mention was made of the fact that agriculture and horticulture continued, nor that there had been no reduction in animals.

People will remember.

At the moment they are remembering the delights of takeaway food. And possibly Tinder… but it is farmers and growers that have produced the food being enjoyed and the income that supports the dating. 

New Zealanders are good at remembering, but many of the anniversaries are incredibly sad. In contrast, the land effort is an incredibly positive thing to acknowledge.

• Dr Jacqueline Rowarth CNZM CRSNZ HFNZIAHS has been examining agri-environment and business information for several decades. The analysis and conclusions above are her own. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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