Farmers’ desperate plea for ‘essential’ recognition
AUSTRALIA'S agricultural sector is one of the most important to the nation's economy and identity, however it could be significantly impacted by coronavirus containment measures if it is not soon added to the "essential services" register.
The Federal Government's tightening restrictions on non-essential gatherings, establishments and travel could see the production, transportation and retail of essential agricultural products become diminished or cut off entirely.
For Queensland producers, having their industries become recognised as an essential service would give priority access to coronavirus testing kits and freight, government support and an exemption from bans on non-essential interstate travel.
The National Farmers Federation has been one of the peak industry bodies leading the charge and president Fiona Simson said yesterday in a statement that it would take state governments and the Commonwealth as a whole to protect agricultural industries from the coronavirus fallout.
"We have been in discussions, as recently as this afternoon, with the Government clearly acknowledging the critical importance of a reliable food supply chain," Ms Simson said.
The Australian Meat Industry Council and Australian Dairy Products Federation joined the NFF in pleading for their industries' reclassification.
As coronavirus restrictions continue to ramp up, remaining a "non-essential service" could prove dire for drought-affected farmers on Southern Downs.
Farmgate butcher Boss Meats owner Greg Paterson said he was shocked to hear red meat production and processing weren't considered a necessity in legislative terms.
"I'm part of the essential service, I wouldn't even doubt or question that," he said.
"I just imagined I was part of the essential service and nothing would stop me providing good, wholesome food to anybody that asked me."
The local butcher added that being recognised as an essential service seemed even more significant during the coronavirus pandemic, due to the spike in demand for his produce and the strain its depletion could put on the local community's supply chain.
"Over the last week-and-a-half, (demand) has been more so than normal," Mr Paterson said.
"It is difficult, you go from doing your normal load to having to be able to supply more people, that's difficult in any trade or business with these sort of circumstances."
For one Southern Downs dairy producer, who wished to remain anonymous, it should go without saying that agricultural industries needed to be protected from coronavirus restrictions, especially when items like milk were considered household staples and had been snapped up in the panic-buying frenzy.
"Dairy is the backbone of the country," the producer said.
"Everyone needs to drink milk - it doesn't matter who you talk to.
"There's a 33 per cent shortage on milk in Queensland at the moment, so it's a real essential, and since the shortfall is being transported from Victoria, a ban on non-essential interstate travel could affect our state's dairy industry.
"Even with the massive shortage, dairy farmers are still struggling to make ends meet. The cost of production is still higher than the income."
Both local producers agreed the importance of food security during the pandemic should make the agricultural sector's essential service status a "no-brainer" but conceded the rapidly evolving situation would mean they could only take it day by day.
"It hasn't affected me yet, so far as I know, so I'll just keep doing what I have to do," Mr Paterson said.
"I try not to worry too much and just go with the flow.
"I guess we'll just have to wait and see."