National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simson today attended, via phone, a meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Agriculture Ministers to discuss the range of challenges for the sector as a result of COVID-19.
“It is of paramount importance that as much as possible ‘business as usual’ can continue for farmers and the provision of safe, quality food for Australian and global consumers,” Ms Simson said.
“Across the supply chain there are pressure points that may impede ‘business as usual’ and the NFF was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the primary issues with Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud and his State and Territory colleagues.
“In particular, we were reassured that Governments are working together to minimise the risk to agriculture’s foreign workforce as a result of the necessary travel restrictions,” Ms Simson said.
“The horticulture sector relies on foreign workers to pick and pack the fresh fruit and vegetables Australians depend on every day. The unfailing supply of fresh produce on our supermarket shelves is of paramount importance to Australians right now.
“To ease this challenge, the NFF continues to have productive discussions with the Federal Government about the potential to extend the visas of workers currently employed on farms pursuant to the Seasonal Worker and Working Holiday Makers programmes.
“The meeting also discussed the preference to see Australians who may find themselves unemployed as a result of COVID-19 to consider farm work.”
Ms Simson said there was ongoing concern for farmers’ continued access to inputs such as crop and animal protection products, packaging and fuel.
“Disruptions to factory operations and port facilities in China has resulted in a tightening of some farm inputs.
“This situation looks to be easing as China begins to reopen, however like shoppers, when it comes to essential inputs such as glyphosate, farmers are being urged to only buy what they need in the short term.”
China’s increasing resumption of business as usual is also good news for Australian farm exports but uncertainty is increasing about access to other key markets such as South Korea, Japan, Italy and other European nations.
“Access to the necessary freight lines will also likely become more challenging as quarantine requirements at ports toughen and outbound air freight capacity reduces in line with the cancelling of passenger services.”
At home, the Government’s social-distancing and large-gathering restrictions are impacting attendance at saleyards with a recommendation for only buyers, agents and transporters to attend livestock selling centres.
Ms Simson said right now, farmers had a bigger job than ever to do and they were up to the challenge.
“Shoppers see empty shelves and worry there is a food shortage – when in fact this is not the case.
“Our farmers ensure that Australia is one of the world’s most food secure countries.
“Between 80-96% of the food on our supermarket shelves is Australian grown.
“We produce so much that 75% of what we grow is exported for the world to enjoy.”
At the meeting, the NFF gave a commitment to work with governments, the supply chain including retailers, to ensure continuity of food supply to Australians continues.
“Farmers take seriously their role as producers of world-class food.
“Our farmers have received the support of Australians during recent tough times.
“With the lives of so many Australians now disrupted, farmers are dedicated to supporting their fellow Aussies with ‘business as usual’ in the provision of fresh produce.”
“Today’s AGMIN meeting was a valuable opportunity for the NFF to discuss directly with Ministers how we can collectively keep up the positive efforts already underway to guide agriculture through what is an incredibly difficult period for our nation as a whole.
‘We thank Minister Littleproud for extending the invitation.”