Dairy Exporter 05-2020 - Farming in the Covid-19 Bubble special

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May 2020

Learn, grow, excel




Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020


Editor’s note



he lockdown is starting to feel like a lock-in, six and a half weeks and counting at this stage. This period will be one to remember when we are old and grey, to tell our grandchildren about. Will they believe us when we say almost all the planes stopped flying? Fingers crossed, it looks like the medical emergency has been staved off, with relatively low numbers of New Zealanders infected and hospitalised with the Covid-19 virus, although families and friends of the lives lost to the disease will be feeling badly affected, our thoughts are with them. New Zealand has certainly risen to the challenge of staying home, uniting against Covid-19. Now we are starting to look towards recovery from the pandemic and the Government is pivoting to kick-start the economic recovery. They have wound back the Resource Management Act and are calling for shovel-ready projects to stimulate employment and get wages and money flowing and people back to work. Let’s hope they will include water storage initiatives as the spectre of climate change has not gone away. In fact many farmers have suffered and are still struggling with drought, with record low levels of rainfall over the past six months. Forecasts are that dry periods, along with other large adverse bad weather events like storms and floods will become more common. All the experts are saying plan, be proactive, act now to minimise damage to next season’s production and think about ways of increasing your resilience to climate change (p39).

NZ Dairy Exporter

We report on the huge amount of research and work going into helping southern farmers tweak their wintering strategies to fit in with messaging from the Winter Grazing Taskforce. Planning is essential and it’s not just about the three months of winter, it encompasses 18 months from choosing paddocks for winter crops through to managing crops and animals over the period and then regrassing 18 months later. (P32). Farmers have risen to the challenge of farming in the Covid-19 bubble and as essential workers have carried on and done the job. Many have come up with great strategies to keep their staff safe from the disease and some of the technologies will no doubt be employed even after we are back out of the alert levels. We also take a look at how large teams have managed, (p42) at the planning for calving, mating and bringing in new staff. If we think of Covid19 as a world-wide biosecurity incursion, then the virus has been like a foot and mouth outbreak for the tourism industry – stopped it in its tracks. We all need to try and help with their recovery – you might find an opportunity to employ someone who has lost their tourism or hospitality job in your farm business or at the least plan a holiday around New Zealand to spend some money in the tourism trade. It’s all part of uniting against Covid-19. Stay safe,

Sneak peek


• Special Report: Best start for young stock - the latest in calf rearing • Buying derivatives to smooth milk price volatility • Metabolics: What cows need


Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020








Keeping their distance: In the workplace, the farms have altered the rosters so the same couple of employees work together instead of mixing with four to five.

Keeping safe Planning for the worst has helped guide a major dairy operation through the Covid-19 lockdown. Anne Hardie reports.


he threat of Covid-19 and then lockdown prompted a set of strict safety protocols for Pamu Farms which prepares them for the worst if an outbreak occurs on a farm. On the West Coast, Pamu’s dairy business manager, Cameron Walker, is in charge of 10 dairy farms between Cape Foulwind, Lake Brunner and Reefton, plus three dairy support units and two machinery syndicates. Between them, some 9000 cows are milked and more than 4500 beef and young stock carried, with more than 60 permanent staff and another 20 casual staff needed through the season. It’s a sizeable staff to keep safe even through a typical dairy season when rain is the main topic of conversation on the Coast. Safety has been a focus for Pamu Farms for some time, but when Covid-19 hitched a ride into New Zealand, it got a lot more serious. As Walker points out, precautions put in place during lockdown and level 3 need to stay in place throughout the worldwide pandemic because if an outbreak occurs on a farm, it would have repercussions for all the staff and the business operation. “It’s about keeping our people safe and healthy and avoiding an outbreak because that will severely impact on how the business can operate. One person can have a big impact on the business and the ability of that business to operate is challenged. You might have one person sick and that might mean the other three to four are under restrictions and then how do you bring people into that bubble? And the flow-on effects of that. “So our role is to plan for the worst and what we would need to do to continue to operate. Would we milk that herd through another shed with another team? It depends on the situation.” He says it was fortunate the industry was nearing the end of

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

Follow the key guidelines. Reinforce the basics: WASH YOUR HANDS – often and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds; CLEAN SURFACES REGULARLY and thoroughly with disinfectant; COVER COUGHS & SNEEZES – coughing into elbows and away from others; 2M

PRACTICE ‘SOCIAL DISTANCING’, including staying apart at least 2 metres at any time; STAY AT HOME WHEN SICK;

INCREASE HYGIENE in the workplace; SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE when developing flu-like symptoms.


Social distancing: IDENTIFY ALTERNATIVES to having team meetings – Phone/WhatsApp/Skype/Zoom; LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVE ways to complete tasks that usually require 2+ people. If there is no choice, use PPE; CLOSE OFF COMMUNAL AREAS or, if not practical, restrict access to 1-2 people at a time in these areas, with social distancing protocols in place; Encourage workers to GO HOME FOR MEALS;

‘We’re fortunate as a company we’ve taken health and safety seriously for a long time.’

the season when Covid-19 showed up and farmers were now holding their breath to get through to the end of May when they could have a bit of a breather. At least until the next season gets under way. When lockdown was announced, Pamu had the benefit of a Wellington team as well as the infrastructure to oversee 124 farms around the country and 600 employees. Initially the Covid-19 team met daily and then weekly as it determined how Pamu’s farm business would operate during the Covid-19 outbreak. “We’re fortunate as a company we’ve taken health and safety seriously for a long time and a lot of what we’re doing now is part of what we do already. Instead of a complete change, we’re adding something into the risk instead of a transformation. It’s not as much of a shock to our farm team because they operate in that manner anyway.” At the beginning of lockdown, ahead of social distancing and hygiene was the need to impress upon employees that it was a privilege to be part of the essential service sector. He says it wasn’t a privilege to be taken lightly, while there was also the serious responsibility of looking after the team. That meant identifying high-risk members of the team in terms of age and health conditions, but also those with spouses or partners who worked outside their bubble in highrisk areas so they could work out how to mitigate those risks on the farms. Mental health had to be considered and Walker says the stress on other family members and the community affected those around them. “Some employees might have spouses, partners or family members that might be under stress and they may be indirectly impacting on them. So we’re checking not only the workplace, but homes as well. We have a confidential support line and people do use that. It’s not just mental health, but pressure in any way.” Likewise, younger employees living alone on farms are often already in an isolated area and Covid-19 restrictions


Create RULES FOR MOVEMENT through the farm and manage rosters to ensure workers remain separated; PAINT/TAPE DISTANCE MEASURES on plant surfaces.

places further restrictions on them. They get some social interaction at work, but he says it is a difficult time for those living alone on farms. In the workplace, the farms have altered the rosters so the same couple of employees work together instead of mixing with four to five. In the dairy, the aim is to have just one person putting cups on the cows instead of two people standing together. Walker says one person might milk the first half of the herd and then another milk the last half. If there has to be two staff members, the farm keeps the same two people working together. Two employees working together anywhere on the farms are required to keep their two-metre distance and where possible, one person will do the job instead of two. That is especially important if they need to get into a vehicle, he says, with disinfectant and gloves in each vehicle to reduce the potential of the virus spreading if it was introduced. If operation managers or similar visit a farm, they travel in their own vehicle and talk with managers via radio or phone as they go around the farm. That ensures they don’t risk taking the virus from farm to farm if there was a case of Covid-19. On the machinery side of the business, tractor drivers now stick to one tractor and don’t swap machines, so once again reducing risk. When it is time for smoko or lunch break, communal areas such as the staffroom are now out of bounds. If staff want a tea or coffee, they bring their own to work and their own mug. Sometimes you can’t get around needing two people near each other to get a job done on a farm, such as working in yards or making a repair that requires assistance. “In those situations, we’re asking the team to take five and assess the risks. Think through how you can do the job more safely.”

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

Walker says one of the plusses to come out of Covid-19 restrictions for Pamu’s West Coast teams has been the wider use of technology that has connected farm workers through to business leaders and support teams in Wellington. As a large-scale business, Pamu had already invested in technology on farms which placed them in a good position to stay connected when Covid-19 restrictions came into force. Managers have moved from Skype to Zoom meetings where up to 60 different people could join a national meeting. “We were already doing a lot of that at business management level and above, but now that has filtered down to farm level which means our farm teams can be connected with the top brass which is kind of neat for them. I definitely would like to see that continue.” Now that farm teams are making more use of technology because of Covid-19, he suspects they will continue to use it post restrictions instead of getting in a vehicle and travelling from one farm to another, or even different parts of the farm. Other aspects of technology have been brought into the farm operations faster because of Covid-19, such as visitors signing in electronically rather than in written form. It now includes a questionnaire focusing on risk management for any contractors or staff from other farms entering a property, ensuring they don’t introduce any undue risk. “I’m really proud of our teams – how seriously they’ve taken it and what steps they have taken to mitigate risk within that bubble. They’re often working with a minimum number of people to do that.” Non-essential maintenance was put on hold and Walker says they kept talking with suppliers and contractors

Conduct of operations: DON’T START NEW INITIATIVES; • Where practicable, pause existing projects; • Keep tasks to essential operations in running the farm, animal and environmental welfare. If it can be put off, put it off;

through lockdown about time frames and their ability to complete some of that work within the financial year when restrictions eased. If that couldn’t happen, then the business needed to plan for that. It’s not just maintenance on farm infrastructure, but also homes and with more than 50 staff homes spread around the 13 Pamu farms on the Coast, he says there is always a new roof, painting, new carpet or something that needs to be done, which was put on hold. As restrictions eased, they would need to prioritise maintenance as contractors would also be in catch-up mode. “We also want to support our contractors and suppliers and get them back on their feet as early as possible.” In the middle of April, the West Coast Pamu farms still had some cull cows on the properties waiting in the works’ queue. But if they hadn’t made the decision to quit most of the cows earlier than usual, it could have been dire. Between 1600 and 1800 cows are usually culled or sold from the West Coast dairy farms each year and when concerns arose in January about the beef market to China, they booked the cows for February and early March – four to six weeks earlier than usual. “We thought we’d offset that by milking the remaining cows longer. It’s been a big problem (slaughtering cull cows) over the whole country and that’s putting pressure on feed supply which is then putting pressure on the supplementary feed market. We’re trying to be proactive by having enough supplements for balance date around 25 September.” Most supplements are made on farms on the Coast, with additional supplements in the form of silage, straw or barley bought in from Canterbury. Pressure on that market has prompted the operation to try and lock in bought-in feed and price as well. The next challenge, Walker says, is tackling the uncertainty of the milk payout next season that so far has varied from predictions of $6.40/kg milksolids (MS) to Rabobank’s recent forecast of $5.60/kg MS. “It’s prudent for us as a large-scale business – or anyone – to be prepared for each scenario and how we operate under those market conditions. If there is talk of a reduced payout, we have to look at our costs and what sort of system we operate and have to be making those plans now.”

• Wherever practicable, use separate vehicles and do not carry passengers in vehicles; • Clean down all vehicles after each trip and at the end of each day; • Have a Plan B for how operations could continue if workers go into self-isolation; • Have a Plan C for how operations could continue if someone on farm tests positive for COVID-19;

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

Younger employees living alone on farms are often already in an isolated area and Covid-19 restrictions places further restrictions on them.



Time for the careerchangers

Many new employees may have little understanding about dairying and will need training.

Anne Hardie

to judge their aptitude and attitude for the job. ew staff on dairy farms this spring Many new employees may have little will likely include more Kiwis from understanding about dairying and will need all walks of life and they may well be training, he says. Employers should understand on 90-day trials because they have that many will have been used to 40-hour weeks not been able to have face-to-face interviews and not working weekends. Now they will be with their employers. looking at 50-hours or more a week in their new That’s the prediction from FarmWise job on a dairy farm. Employers may need to consultant Brent Boyce who says Covid-19 restructure rosters for a while and how they lockdown and ongoing border restrictions will pay new staff from other industries. Emma Thomson Learmonth: change the profile of the dairy industry. This year, Fixed-term agreements “In reality there is going to be a need versus casual work. employers will have to be flexible, he says. for many Kiwis to have a career change. Many dairy farmers had already organised It’s an opportunity for a job in an essential staff for next season when Covid-19 prompted restrictions industry and we’re looking at restructuring the whole labour on the country and the industry had become reliant on market.” overseas workers who were no longer available, he says. At When farmers need to find temporary or short-term staff the same time, employers could not often get face-to-face due to Covid-19, Norris Ward McKinnon solicitor, Emma interviews on the farm to check out prospective employees. Thomson Learmonth says they have the choice of fixedMany Kiwis will be looking for short-term work and he says term agreements versus casual work. employers can negotiate casual employment agreements For some farmers, workers have been unable to come back with those, while others will suit a 90-day trial to make sure from overseas because of Covid-19 restrictions, or there is both sides are happy with the role, with many hopefully the potential of workers becoming unwell from the virus making a career change to dairying. and replacement staff are needed. “We have to be flexible and be prepared to change the She says fixed-term agreements are used when employers way we have employed people in the past,” he says. “It want to employ staff for a specific period and there needs could be someone who lives over the fence who gets paid by to be a genuine reason for employing them for a fixed the hour.” period. If the fixed term is likely to be less than 12 months, He knows one dairy farmer needing staff who had a employers can pay the worker 8% of their gross pay each diverse range of people applying for the job who would not pay cycle to meet their minimum leave entitlements. have been seeking work on a dairy farm before Covid-19, That should be discussed and agreed with the worker at though interviewing them was problematic. the outset of the employment relationship, she says. An “It’s incredible, the number of people coming out of the employment agreement is key in a fixed-term agreement. woodwork that are not from the dairy industry, but just Most include when or how the employment relationship looking for work. Some of those people haven’t got a job for will end, plus a genuine reason for the fixed term. next year and some farmers haven’t got staff for next year. Casual work on the other hand, is when employers want But it’s also proving quite a hassle to get staff because it’s to employ someone when and where, as required, with no hard to interview them.” guarantee of hours and no ongoing expectation of work. It He acknowledges 90-day trials will be hard for employees, means the casual worker can also decline work. especially those with families as it makes them very When a worker is employed to replace another for a vulnerable. But it’s unusual times and farmers will in some period, she says it may be better to have a project-based cases be employing people without seeing them on a farm approach.



Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020


Attitude a reflection of resilience Sheryl Haitana


hroughout Alert Level 4 farmers have continued to be positive and it’s a reflection of how resilient they are, CRV Ambreed national sales and marketing manager Jon Lee says. “As a company we’ve been privileged to thrive off their positivity. When our people have been in contact with farmers, it’s encouraging they’ve been upbeat and positive.” Farmers are used to dealing with things that are out of their control, such as weather or milk price. As such they are very pragmatic and have been understanding of any changes during this time, says Jon. “They just accept it. Farmers are experts at volatility, this is just another thing they’ve added to their list.” Farmers can be reassured CRV are taking steps to provide the same continuity of service for farmers during the various alert levels announced by government, while making health and safety a priority and following government guidelines. Once the lockdown has been lifted, farmers can expect a pre-screening phone call to check for any Covid-19 exposure prior to a visit from a CRV representative. CRV will also be pre-screening their Artificial Breeding (AB) technicians before they head out on to farms this winter to keep staff and farmers safe, CRV operations manager Andrew Medley says.

‘Farmers are experts at volatility, this is just another thing they’ve added to their list.’

“We will be pre-screening to see if people have had any exposure to the virus in their community and will be asking farmers if they have any other requirements for us coming onfarm.” CRV AB technicians already follow strong hygiene and biosecurity procedures going between different farms, but they will step up another gear to include social distancing

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

LEFT: CRV operations manager Andrew Medley: ‘We will be prescreening to see if people have had any exposure to the virus.’

and wearing personal protection equipment (PPE). “It’s an extension of what we already expect,” Andrew says. AB technicians will be responsible for handling all equipment including straws, or an approved person that may be with them, with farmers asked not to handle the equipment. Farmers will still be expected to have stock presented ready for mating and will need to stick to safe social distancing while the AB technician is onfarm. CRV field consultants will still be delivering Artificial Insemination (AI) banks to farmers who do their own AB, ringing the farmer prior to ask where they want it dropped off. Alternatively, in some cases CRV has also engaged companies to deliver the banks. Herd testing is another service which will also be permitted under Alert levels 2 and 3. This is dependent on the farmers being willing to have a CRV herd tester on-farm. The herd tester will again follow appropriate health and safety standards such as social distancing while onfarm. In the case where a herd tester has to travel significant distance, they will only do an AM or PM test to avoid them staying overnight in a motel, Jon says. “We don’t want to put any people at undue risk, we want them to be able to go home safely to their bubble.” There has been an increase in farmers using CRV’s digital catalogue for sires and services and Jon anticipates that will continue to increase as farmers get used to reviewing online material. However, CRV field consultants are looking forward to getting back out onfarm when they can do so safely. “Our team enjoys building relationships with their farmers, and in many cases, friendships. They are certainly missing that interaction.”



Keep focus on M bovis Sheryl Haitana


mongst the Covid-19 response it’s essential the industry doesn’t take its focus off Mycoplasma bovis, LIC general manager of NZ markets Malcolm Ellis says. “Covid-19 has been all absorbing for a lot of people and organisations, but in the background, still simmering away, is Mycoplasmas Bovis.” There have been more than 40 new cases found since October 2019 across the dairy and sheep and beef industries. “This reminds us that this is still a significant consideration for our industry. We are very Covid-19 focused at the moment, but we are not letting up consideration on protecting our shareholders’ assets through M bovis.” The response to M bovis has set the industry up to have stronger biosecurity plans in place on farms. This has made it easier for the industry to quickly adapt and use technology in the response to Covid-19 easier, he says. Ellis has been impressed with how quickly farmers have taken up new technology to communicate with LIC and make their decisions during the lockdown period. “I’ve been incredibly impressed and appreciative with how accommodating farmers have been. They seem to have just recognised the need to continue a level of business as usual, and they’re grateful we can still engage with them, but we have to do this in a different way.” For example, farmers have been using Zoom video conferencing technology to talk with their LIC sales representatives around bull selection. “A lot of farmers were using Zoom for the first time. They were having 1.5-2 hour calls, really engaging and informative Zoom and phone calls.” LIC’s other staff have worked from home if they could, following Government recommendations. Staff from LIC’s call centre were able to transfer from Newstead to working from home within three days of the Government’s announcement of going into lockdown to continue to support dairy farmers. The paramount focus for LIC throughout the continued response to Covid-19 is the safety of its staff and their families, and farmers and their families, Malcolm says. When NZ comes out of its Alert level response to


LIC general manager of NZ markets Malcolm Ellis: ‘A lot of farmers were using Zoom for the first time.’

Covid-19, LIC will look forward to reinstating onfarm meetings and regular services with farmers. LIC has continued to offer essential services such as herd testing during Alert Level 4 lockdown, albeit without herd testing assist service because they couldn’t guarantee 2m social distancing in a herringbone. There were a few farmers who cancelled herd testing, but a lot of farmers carried on using the service, Malcolm says. “We have been taking up to 10,000-15,000 new samples per week because farmers are still seeing it as an essential service to monitor drying off. “That’s been really interesting. We’ve had some cancelling, but people have been relieved to hear we are still herd testing.” When life returns to whatever the new normal looks like, farmers can expect their LIC representatives to be visiting them when they can do so safely. “We have always valued that face to face engagement with our farmers, and we are committed to getting back to that.” More follow up visits or calls may be able to be done using technology such as Zoom, however use of more technology could alter some new habits for companies. Offering more flexibility with working from home or using technology to reduce some travel will improve the level of productivity, he says. “With every significant challenge come powerful learnings and we would be unwise not to bank on those. “There is a significant opportunity to reduce travel. There could easily be a positive footprint outcome.”

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020


At home with a cup of tea instead of out in the wind and rain at the sale yards.

Sellers still need willing buyers Story and photos by Karen Trebilcock


ural Livestock Southland livestock manager Rodger Eade says it’s been the perfect storm for an already unsettled livestock market. “We’ve got the drought in the North Island and in Canterbury, we’re still dealing with M. bovis and now we’ve got Covid-19.” Although most sales of dairy herds happened before the shutdown, sales of young stock, empties and culls had been difficult with buyers, sellers and stock agents having to adhere to social distancing rules.

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

“You don’t want to be that guy which spreads it. “Usually we’d take a buyer to the farm to view the cows and most of the deal would be done on the trip in the car but now the buyer is in the car following.” He said while good stock was still selling, it was a buyers’ market with lots of opportunities for those with grass. The reconfiguring of meat processors under the lockdown rules has caused a backlog of cattle needing to be killed, both culls and prime beef, keeping them on farms and eating into winter feed supplies. Now with too many large mouths to keep content, farmers weren’t buying replacement young stock which



GOOD CALL. At FMG, we know that over a quarter of all our milk claims are due to chiller failure. It’s this kind of specialised rural knowledge that allows us to pass on valuable advice to farmers. Advice like recommending dairy farmers insulate their milk vats to protect them from heat gain and reduce stress on the chiller system during early summer. We also advise things like checking milk is entering the vat at the required temperature, or that you alter milking times where you can. At the end of the day, if we can help you avoid loss through chiller failure it reduces stress, lost production and downtime. So why not get in touch with FMG to see how we can help you make some good calls on your farm. Call us on 0800 366 466, or go to fmg.co.nz

We’re here for the good of the country. FMG0915DEFP_W


Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

they would normally do in autumn. Some stock agents were saying farmers were ringing them in tears not knowing what to do. With sale yards closed, some sales had moved online but PGG Wrightson Southern regional dairy livestock manager Mark Cuttance said online sales, just like traditional ways of selling, still needed buyers. “Just like in a sale yard, or in a sale onfarm, online auctions still need a willing seller and a willing buyer and with so many people having trouble getting stock to the works it’s stopping a lot of sales that would normally be happening around now,” he said. “And the schedules seem to be diminishing weekly so no one is sure where prices will settle.” Everyone was careful to keep two metres apart on farms and if buyers lived too far away they were relying on stock agents to look at stock. “It’s taking more time. Everything has slowed down.” PGG Wrightson was putting stock up for sale on online auction site bidr. “I think the situation is making people aware of the online options and how they work but I think a lot of people will go back to the sale yards and the farms after this,” he said. “People like to see what they are buying.” Rodger said Rural Livestock was using bidr and StockX and was finding some people were fans of online bidding and others weren’t. “There is very good technology and we should be moving with innovation but it’s not for everyone.” Independent online livestock marketplace StockX saw a 1200% increase in accounts opened between the week before the announcement of the level four lockdown and the week afterwards. “We’re still opening more than 100 accounts a week,” manager director Jason Roebuck said in late April. Sales of all commercial and stud stock classes were on the digital marketplace which is into its fifth year. StockX has real time online auctions allowing sellers to set a starting price and a reserve with the option of adding a buy now price. “Buyers get to bid via pre-set bid increments or can offer any price they like including setting up auto-bids so you can walk away and get on with farming,” Jason said. Setting up a trading account was free and farmers, stock agents and processors were included. There were no listing fees and farmer sellers pay 2.5% commission to StockX only on successful sales or, if a sale is arranged through a stock agent, they took care of costs. Payment was made on the day of the sale and held in a trust account by StockX until it was confirmed the stock had arrived at the buyer’s property and matched the auction listing. Invoicing was also managed for buyers and sellers and was available to view and download from transaction history. Buyers paid for freight unless otherwise arranged. From a buyer protection perspective the system was robust, Jason said.

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

Traditional saleyards: ‘I think a lot of people will go back to the sale yards and the farms after this,’ says PGG Wrightsons’ Mark Cuttance.

“Bidding in StockX online auctions is secure. We have it nailed down to microseconds so we know who bid first and can track all activity back to the individual buyer. “There’s no room for bid rigging and we offer certainty and comfort through everyone having to bid the same way. “You know what you are bidding and what you are bidding for and can see how many others you are bidding against.” Sellers were not able place bids on their own stock. Viewing of animals can be arranged prior to buying and account holders could set up personalised alerts for stock they wanted to buy. Jason said price discovery was the same as during an auction on farm or at a sale yard. “StockX is continually talking to stock agents, many of who were account holders, about stock pricing and account holders are able to view market pricing across the country on StockX.” Dairy herds, in-calf heifers, bulls for mating, yearlings and empty cows and heifers were all being traded successfully, Jason said. “StockX has worked with MPI to make sure animal welfare concerns were addressed and regulations complied with.” Online trading was “all in all, a better outcome for the animal”. “There is no transportation to sale yards and then holding them there for extended periods, in some case over a day and then transporting them again to the buyer’s farm. “Instead stock are only transported once – direct to the buyer.” Account holders had to be GST registered which enabled the site to be geared specifically to the needs of the commercial farming business. Other platforms to trade stock online included My Loading Ramp, Livestock Exchange, Cloudyards, Stocky and Trademe.



WISPS take net to the farm Anne Hardie


any rural communities around the country have struggled with their online connections during the Covid-19 outbreak and are never going to have fibre running past their gate, but wireless airfibre is now an option to provide ultra-fast broadband to some areas. SenSys is a Tasman electronics and design company that has set up wireless airfibre technology throughout the region with speed plans that deliver internet services up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for both upload and download from the internet, and higher speeds where needed. That compares with some homes and businesses on the old copper-wire system that can only achieve around 10 Mbps – or less. The company, through its arm, VeriFast Internet Services, is one of about 30 wireless internet service providers (WISPs) around the country tackling those harder-to reach locations where mainstream telecommunication companies don’t go.


The delivery operates by first connecting to a fibre optic link at a central point, then delivering wireless ‘air fibre’ from transmitters on hilltops and buildings. From these points, the wireless signal can travel to a cluster of homes and businesses in a rural area. VeriFast network coordinator, Karen Matthews, says most of rural New Zealand is stuck with internet over copper wires and if they choose a rural broadband plan delivered over cellular, coverage can be poor and so their internet is slow or patchy. SenSys’ wireless airfibre uses a radio frequency to transport data. She says speed of internet services is faster and both the download and upload speeds are equally fast. SenSys stepped up to the role of internet provider somewhat accidentally, when it struggled to work with local internet speed in their engineering business. Though the business is located just 10 minutes or so outside Richmond, internet speed was despairingly slow. So the SenSys team decided to use its experience and expertise to do something about it.

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

After creating its own ultra-fast wireless fibre system, the neighbours wanted the same and it established a cluster in Redwood Valley. More followed as local rural communities struggled with slow internet. Matthews says they are now delivering over the Waimea Plains and into neighbouring valleys and could supply ultra-fast broadband into Nelson for businesses that want a premium delivery. SenSys is focused on Tasman and still expanding internet clusters in the region, but Matthews says local WISPs around the country have the capability now to get the technology into backblock communities where there is a cluster that can work together. She says it’s not an option for everyone in rural New Zealand as it is usually set up as a cluster of homes that have a view of a transmission point or each other, with one higher site used for the antenna that has a line-of-sight to an internet transmission point. Signal can be collected by one home and bounced to another in the cluster if there is no line-of-sight with the transmitter. Those involved in the cluster can then share the cost of getting air fibre into the area. However, she says it is possible to do almost anything with wireless airfibre and if someone is willing to pay for the receiver and transmitter to get the wireless signal to their site, then they can get ultra-fast broadband. The technology SenSys produces goes beyond household and business internet supply. Matthews says their LoRaWAN-based products, a radio technology method which originated in France, allows information to flow wirelessly into the internet where assets can be monitored, like water flowmeters or temperatures in coolstores or

Wireless airfibre is now an option to provide ultra-fast Broadband to some areas.

whether something has moved and its location needs to be known. The advantage of the wireless device is that it can be placed anywhere, with no complex setup, and it lasts years on a battery. On a farm, the devices can communicate with each other from anywhere on the farm so that, for instance, if the water level drops in a tank, it can tell a pump at a different location to shut down. “This kind of technology is the future of being able to know about and control electrical equipment from afar,” she says.

Solutions in Dovedale


oor internet has driven many rural communities around the country to find their own solutions, such as Dovenet in the tiny settlement of Dovedale in Tasman. Local resident with a bent for technology, Toby Scorrar, set up the wireless broadband and phone service to the Dovedale community two years ago because the farming community was struggling to do just about anything online. That was before Covid-19 placed

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

even more demand on internet services and it has enabled locals to have multiple streams of high-definition videos. “A lot of people were stuck on satellite broadband or copper, and copper has usually degraded so much that it isn’t really suited for broadband. As farmers needed to do more and more online they were really struggling. Now everything is done online including their cloud accounting.” The high-speed network starts at Dovedale School where it links to a

quality fibre connection which can then broadcast the signal via several core repeater sites. That enables it to cover an area that services about 60 customers who have a line of sight to a repeater. If locals don’t have a line of sight, Scorrar says they can get their own repeater at a site that will enable them to get a signal. The extra repeater costs about $2000, on top of the costs distributed between the cluster of users. All sites are solar-powered to provide coverage if there is a power cut.


SPECIAL REPORT DairyNZ and Federated Farmers working closely on managing the effects on dairy’s workforce from Covid-19

Looking to the locals Anne Lee


ovid-19 may change the face of the dairy farming workforce with thousands of New Zealanders potentially available to the sector after becoming unemployed because of the pandemic. Dairy farming and horticulture have relied heavily on the migrant workforce to get the job done but as more Kiwis become job seekers, some migrants on temporary work visas may have to return home. About 40% of Canterbury’s dairy farming workforce is migrant labour with similar percentages in Southland and Otago. In Waikato 25% are migrants. DairyNZ people team leader Jane Muir and Federated Farmers dairy section chairman Chris Lewis agree that while it’s the result of a tragic situation, the industry is looking now at a growing pool of capable, motivated New Zealanders. Making the most of that talent pool, attracting them into the sector and successfully keeping them onfarm while managing a smooth transition from migrant staff will take the combined effort of both farmers and government. In a DairyNZ-hosted webinar during the first week of Covid-19 Alert Level Three, Jane and Chris outlined some of the points raised in the combined DairyNZ-Federated


Farmers immigration submission to government. “Our main request in that proposal was ‘please work with us on a planned and phased approach to managing our reliance on migrant labour’,” Jane said. By early May the Government’s policy was that temporary work visas due to expire between April 2 and July 9 inclusive, had automatically been extended until September 25. It wasn’t clear what was to happen to those due to expire after July 9 except it was highly likely it would take several months to process any visa extension applications currently being processed or still to be processed. Immigration New Zealand’s website stated on May 5 that temporary work visa holders would have some short-term flexibility to vary their roles or workplace locations. “Work visa holders with employer-specific work visas already employed in essential services will be able to vary their hours and be redeployed to do other roles within their current workplace. “They can also perform their current role in a different workplace in the same region to help essential businesses keep operating while New Zealand remains at Alert Level 3 and for six weeks after that,” the site said. www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/coronavirusupdate-inz-response

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Bringing New Zealanders onfarm new to dairying and farming, will take time and training so farmers need to keep up with immigration changes so they know when migrant staff will no longer be able to work. Having migrant staff leaving en masse during calving could be disastrous. “We need sufficient employees for successful calving, or successful mating (standpoint) – there will be flow-on effects if we don’t do this right,” she said. Seeing migrant staff go would be tough for many farmers and communities but farmers needed to think about their recruitment needs now with a mind to accepting that when visas expire they may be difficult to renew, especially those at the lower skill levels. “It will be very hard … an emotional decision,” Chris said. “Migrants are part of farm teams and communities and whilst we do have a commitment to employ New Zealanders first, it’s a real emotional heart tug, those relationships are personal,” Jane said. “We are reliant on some of our migrants to help train Kiwis as they come into our work force. “Hats off and thanks in advance to the migrants who take that challenge on, it takes a big person if you know your visa is going to end and you are willing to take someone else and train them. “It’s a lot we’re asking of them,” she said. Farmers had many specific questions relating to immigration status of staff and expected timelines. The situation is changing rapidly and farmers should keep a close eye on the Immigration New Zealand website and stay in touch with DairyNZ and Federated Farmers and their immigration consultants. Labour market tests are likely to be more rigorous in the future and carried out with ‘could this New Zealand applicant competently do the job?’ rather than ‘does this person have farming experience?’

Chris Lewis: good recruitment and induction processes key to getting capable, motivated Kiwis into dairy workforce.

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

Jane Muir: a planned and phased approach needed to changing workforce

Staff housing was a concern too with changes to tenancy rules prohibiting the termination of tenancies for three months from March 26 and the possibility of rolling this over for another three months. As the house comes with the job, the tenancy is referred to as a service tenancy. Some farmers have staff leaving the job but not wanting to leave the house. In one case the migrant staff member was stuck overseas but their family was remaining in the house. While there is a duty of care to people in the current pandemic, farmers too could be unfairly penalised by the ruling and an exemption was being sought for service tenancies to ensure that farms have enough staff. Making a success of bringing Kiwis on to farms will be dependent largely on good recruitment and induction processes, Chris said. To get the best of those in the available pool of employees, farmers will have to show they are good bosses and workplace conditions including hours worked and days off are fair and attractive. There may be some who take up dairying as a stop-gap measure until the economy improves but the better their experience onfarm the more likely they’ll stay for the longer term, become part of the sector and move into highly skilled roles. Jane said the dairy sector’s Workplace Action Plan guildlines are that employees should not be expected to work more than 48 hours in a week. “If there are more hours on offer and the employee wants to take them then they should be paid for those additional hours, separate to any salary.” DairyNZ already has a lot of resources for people management on its website and a Good Boss toolkit is soon to be released. DairyNZ has reignited its Go Dairy campaign with special attention paid to career changers. DairyNZ is also working with government to introduce people to dairy farming and ensure they have some basic training such as vehicle and animal handling skills, before arriving on farm. The aim is to give new entrants to dairy farming the best start possible.



Lives at stake in lockdown Adam and Tara Mielnik. ‘You just have to accept that things are going to take a bit more time, slow down and be patient.’

Anne Lee


or the four people working on Dairy Holdings Ltd (DHL) specialist young stock block rearing up to 6500 calves and heifers, following strict Covid-19 protocols was particularly important. The partner of one staff member works in a dementia care unit and another works in a pharmacy. The risks if the virus spread either way – from farm to workplace or workplace back to farm – were critical. As seen by the tragic experiences of care homes elsewhere in the country, lives were at stake. Adam Mielnik is the manager on Mr Gingerbread, the 634-hectare Mid-Canterbury young stock block. When the country’s Covid-19 alert levels leapt from Level Two to Level Four within the space of a few days and the disease threat was fully realised the team had to quickly rethink how it would operate, he says. DHL management and supervisors had been preparing them over previous days for likely scenarios if alert levels rose but the rapid jump to Level Four meant they quickly had to assess what the rules for essential service operations

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meant in an onfarm situation. Graeme Blair is the supervisor for all the company’s drystock farms and says the rules as they were coming through were quickly communicated to all of the farms – both dairy and drystock – via companywide memos. A company-wide policy of social distancing and hygiene to disinfect surfaces was quickly set as was a policy to limit contractors or service people coming on to properties to only those who were absolutely essential. “For most farms it was just the fertiliser contractors and we asked staff on the farms to set up the gates so the spreader drivers could just drive straight to where they needed to be so they didn’t have to touch any gate handles,” Graeme says. “We worked through what we needed supply wise in the way of vaccines and drenches and talked about who would be the person to go to town to pick up orders and how we’d organise deliveries.” In the very first week of lockdown Adam and his team had to put their Level Four practices to work on a grand scale because it coincided with calf-weigh week. It involves 3500 calves and is an activity that usually has three or four people working in the purpose-built yards together. Under Level Four they limited it to two. “Luckily my casual staff member is my wife Tara so, as our own bubble we could work together without checking we were two metres apart all the time. “We had someone bringing the animals in from their paddocks but with just the two of us in the yards it took eight days whereas we’d usually get it done in four days,” Adam says. They also had 3000 rising two-year-old heifers to truck out to their winter grazing blocks during Level Three. Always an exercise in logistics, careful planning and organisation, handling such large numbers under social distancing requirements again took a little longer.

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Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020

Truck drivers didn’t get out of their vehicles during the loading process to avoid any unnecessary interactions and everything went to plan, Adam says. “You just have to accept that things are going to take a bit more time, slow down and be patient.” At the outset the farm team talked, at a distance, about the importance of each family staying in their bubble and having no visitors to their homes or on farm. “We talked about how we’d isolate someone if they got crook or what they’d do if someone in their family got crook.” Everyone understood just how important that was given the staff members’ partners’ jobs. “We’re lucky in a way because for a lot of the jobs we do here we don’t need to be side by side. “So we straight away split the activities and everyone took on their own role. “The tractor driving was done by one person, one staff member was on the yearlings and another on the older animals.” The farms sourced extra disinfectant and gloves for those areas where more than one person was likely to pass through. “We wiped down gates and gate latches where we touched them,” Adam says “If the tractor driver had to be off work and we needed to use it we talked about the importance of disinfecting it before someone else used it. “We haven’t had to do that though. “He fed out up to four days ahead so that gave us some leeway for his days off.” Adam says the Microsoft Teams meetings didn’t take too much effort to get used to and says he’ll probably make more use of that kind of technology to save time as the alert levels drop and post Covid-19. Graeme says the online meetings have allowed them to have up to 10 people on video call from Te Anau right through to the West Coast. “Like everyone I think it took a bit of getting used to but

it’s worked surprisingly well and we’ve saved a lot of time and money in travel. “We’ll definitely keep using it.” Mick O’Connor supervises 13 dairy farms for DHL and says staff were able to implement social distancing and good hygiene practices, wiping down surfaces as soon as the alert levels began to rise. “We made sure no one was sharing motorbikes and that everyone was kept right up to date with what was expected of them. “We also checked in on people over the phone and through the online Teams meetings to make sure people were coping. “Right at the start the office sent out forms for every farm to write down each staff member and if they were immune compromised or not. “One of our managers’ wives had been through cancer treatment and everyone understood just how important it was to stick to the rules to keep everyone safe. “We had to talk about contingency plans for farm teams and what we’d do if the whole farm team went down with it (Covid-19) or several of one team had to be isolated – how we’d run the farm.” Thankfully those scenarios haven’t played out. Mick says people have coped “pretty well” with strict alert levels and there’s been a feeling from farm team members looking at their town counterparts that they’ve been lucky to be able to continue working, keep getting paid and get outside. There are concerns for migrant staff members with about a third of farm staff on work visas and many facing uncertainty. Mick says he’s already had an inquiry about work from an airline pilot. “There will be opportunities to get great people, New Zealanders, out on to our farms but we need certainty right now so we can plan. “We’ve got very skilled, valued migrant staff doing a great job now who also need certainty,” he says. The yards are usually a hive of activity with three or people working, but there have just been the two bubblemates under Alert Level 2.

“New Zealand Dairy Careers is committed to retaining and developing people within the dairy industry.”

Dairy Exporter | www.nzfarmlife.co.nz | May 2020


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