Kiwi ingenuity and a drive to “make it work” have been pivotal in New Zealand’s agriculture sector getting through the COVID-19 pandemic with relatively little impact, according to a new study by AgResearch and its partners.
Farmers and others working in the agriculture and food systems in New Zealand and Australia were surveyed or interviewed about the impacts of COVID-19 in the period through to June 2020, which included national lockdowns.
While acknowledging overall negative effects, additional stress and pressures from the pandemic and response, only 47 per cent of New Zealand survey respondents viewed the effect on their farms or businesses as negative over that period. A further 37 per cent said the effect was neutral.
Much of New Zealand’s primary sector was able to continue working through the COVID-19 lockdowns and, unlike some other nations, its performance held up well. Export revenue from primary products for the period exceeded revenue from the previous year. Those interviewed in the NZ sector also identified some positives coming out of the pandemic experience such as better ways of working (including going paperless or doing online meetings), opportunities for new markets for their products and increased community appreciation of their sector.
“The term resilience is a buzzword that’s probably a bit overused. But it’s clear from our analysis that the in-built ability to cope with adversity through various means, find new ways of doing things and get on with the job, were important in how farmers and their supporting industries performed so well,” says AgResearch senior scientist Dr Val Snow.
“Many farmers were already dealing with drought conditions but were able to manage through the extra difficulties. We’ve seen those in other countries not fare as well. Some Kiwi farmers found being required to stay on their farms through COVID-19 restrictions meant they were actually more focused on their core tasks and their family life.”
One New Zealand farmer talked about the necessity to home-school the kids “meant they were involved in farming life and saw the decision-making process and us discussing real life events”.
Another experienced “indirectly, a change in attitude among public around how they value security of food production and therefore role of farmers in providing that food”.
Dr Snow says relatively high technology use and strong connections in the New Zealand sector also meant it was well-placed to the respond to the pandemic, while overseas demand for its products staying strong was also critical.
“Although the outlook is more positive now with access to vaccines looming, many of those we heard from expect impacts of the pandemic to linger for some time. We will be interested to see how those impacts change over time, and that is where further research will be valuable.”
AgResearch scientists and the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research worked with several science organisations in New Zealand and Australia as part of this collaborative research. The full details in the open access published article can be viewed here.