Governments reserve recognition of agriculture as an essential service

Sheep Central, March 23, 2020

VFF president David Jochinke.

AUSTRALIAN farmer bodies federally and at the state level seem yet to have formal recognition for agriculture and agribusinesses as essential services as the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis deepens.

The National Farmers Federation yesterday said it had been assured that agriculture and the food supply chain will not be interrupted, despite the closure of travel between some states to fight the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

And in a Twitter post yesterday, Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes said the State Government would “ensure our farms and agribusinesses keep operating to keep the supermarkets stocked and food on tables.”

“Food and beverage production is at the heart of ensuring we can get through this crisis together – the Victorian Government knows how important you are to us all,” she said.

The Victorian Farmers Federation today welcomed Ms Symes’ Twitter post, but VFF president David Jochinke said the federation is still seeking formal recognition of agriculture and angribuiness as essential services.

Mr Jochinke said the VFF has been working closely with the Victorian Government to ensure that agriculture and agribusinesses can continue to operate.

“Victoria’s agricultural sector is the backbone of our state and a fundamental component of our economy.

“We are the lifeblood of many regional centres and rural towns,” he said.

The VFF said Victoria produced more than $13 billion worth of milk, fruit, vegetables, meat, fibre, eggs and grains annually and supported a processed food industry worth $38 billion, according to recent Victorian Government data.

“These are unprecedented times.

“The silver lining in all of this is the close relationship and partnership that VFF has established with government,” Mr Jochinke said.

The VFF leader said he acknowledged that agriculture was not on the “unessential services list.”

“Agriculture, you can’t shut it down, you’ve got to keep it rolling and if there was any attempt to restrict it, it would have to be for good reason because you just can’t stop ag.”

Mr Jochinke said the VFF would still be seeking formal recognition of agriculture and agribusiness as essential services.

“If this escalates, we have to ensure that farmers can get to their farmers, that workers can get to their farms, that we can get fertiliser and other inputs to farms, and that we can produce off farmers and into supermarkets.

“The government understands this and through numerous conversations they get it.”

Mr Jochinke said he believed governments were “keeping their powder dry” on formally declaring agriculture as an essential service.

“They are keeping their powder dry, understanding what an escalation looks like.

“We have been told this is going to go for months and they want to ensure that they stage this in a co-ordinated manner,” he said.

“To count something in or out when you don’t need to is something that they are going to reserve.”

Mr Jochinke said there will be challenges ahead and the VFF is planning, mapping and addressing these.

“The important thing is that we are all working together to secure the future of our agricultural industry and continuing to produce to feed Victorians during these trying times,” Mr Jochinke said.


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