Thursday, 9 April 2020

Farming through COVID-19


With some tweaks to the system, Parininihi ki Waitotara (PKW) sharemilkers Trish and Glen Rankin have kept the farm running, whilst cancelling all capital projects.

In south Taranaki Trish and Glen Rankin sharemilk 450 cows with their Farm Assistant, Bridget and some off-farm relief staff.

The Maori owned incorporation PKW, is already big on health and safety so with some tweaks to the system, it has felt like business as usual aside from losing their relief staff and putting capital projects on hold.

“We still have all our Standard Operating Procedures in place, but have added in things like alcohol wipes for any shared surfaces (tractor door handles), wearing gloves if doing shared jobs and if anyone is unwell, (e.g. even just a cold) they don't come to work,” Trish says. 

“All contractors have been communicated with to discuss that when they come onto farm, for essential work only, they must phone the sharemilker rather than sign in as we’ve taken the book away to stop the spread of any germs."

“We have ceased all face to face meetings with off-farm people since Level 3 and then our own farm team at Level 4. We now use social media to connect with our team.”

Since ceasing all relief staff, Trish has picked up the four extra milkings each week. They are still operating a five on two off roster for their farm assistant and Glen, while Trish is now doing four days on three days off.

“We are able to maintain the social distance during milking due to having a big shed (50 aside), which is the only time we are generally doing the same thing at the same time. Otherwise we distribute jobs on the farm, so we are all working solo jobs."

Life hasn’t changed much from the cow’s perspective. They continue to be fed and milked as normal. What has changed is culls were a little delayed and at a low schedule price. The vet has only needed to be called out once with social distancing procedures followed.

“We are cautious about the cost of some of the feed used on farm with PKE now a couple hundred dollars more per tonne - due to the ships that bring it usually leaving with logs on the return trip – so we’re a little unsure as to what we might need to do next year. We already grow most of our own supplement but PKE is a handy thing to have in the dry months.”

One thing that may be unforeseen for farmers is their mental wellbeing with the ability to get off farm before calving not likely to be able to happen. So while everyone else will be able to return to life as normal soon, farmers will be going into another form of lockdown (calving) where they won’t be looking up from what they’re doing till December.

“Our family has had every event and thing we looked forward to cancelled,” says Trish. “No more basketball, rugby, or surf life saving and swimming. This is all a small sacrifice, but for a dairy farmer - March to June are the months you can easily get off farm before calving starts again and you are tied to the farm from July to December. We had to cancel our June holiday to Aussie, again a small sacrifice, but the reality is if by July we haven’t had our only annual break off farm, we will be here till December, which will be a long eight months!”