Calls for govt to deem agriculture an essential service

Tuesday, 24 March, 2020

Calls for govt to deem agriculture an essential service

Australian Organic is joining National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) in calling for agriculture and the food supply chain to be deemed an essential service, for the purpose of the COVID-19 response. The 2019 Australian Organic Market Report revealed that the current area of land under certified organic management in Australia is over 35 million hectares (approximately 9.6% of farmland). There are currently more than 2000 certified organic primary producers in Australia including farmers, graziers, apiarists and wild harvesters.

“As a member of the NFF, we have been in weekly meetings with them to support focus in the agricultural area, and now more than ever given the current crisis, will continue to back them. The NFF is committed to ensuring modern farming is not only viable and sustainable but continues its vital and growing contribution to the nation despite any challenging circumstances. The organic agricultural sector makes up a significant portion of the industry, and we will be endeavouring to make sure the needs of organic growers are met during these difficult times,” said Niki Ford, Australian Organic CEO.

Three-quarters of the fruit, vegetable and nut sector value comprises vegetable production, with beef dominating the meat sector with approximately 87% of value. Lamb comprises the bulk of the remaining 13% in addition to organic pork, goat and aquaculture. Poultry products are evenly weighed between eggs and poultry meat, in terms of value.

NFF President Fiona Simson said her organisation had been in discussions, as recently as just a couple of days ago, with the government in regards to the critical importance of a reliable food supply chain.

“The NFF has been assured that agriculture and the food supply chain will not be interrupted, despite the closure of travel between some states. This is in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment to prioritising lives and livelihoods,” said Fiona Simpson, NFF President.

It is argued that the confirmation of agriculture as an essential service by the states and the Commonwealth as a collective could help ensure that the measures taken to control the spread of COVID-19 do not inadvertently obstruct food production and supply.

“The agriculture industry takes human health seriously and is taking appropriate measures to ensure this is a priority. That being said, the transport of produce from farm to market must be able to happen unobstructed — this includes across state borders. Likewise, for the logistics that ensure the flow of essential agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and crop protection products,” Simpson said.

According to Simpson, discussions also remain active about how to protect the workforce of key facilities, such as abattoirs, in the event of a positive COVID-19 test.

“We understand a list of essential services may be developed by states. It is absolutely critical that there is consistency across states in the recognition of the importance of food production and the supply chain. In our discussions with government, the NFF has reiterated the farm sector’s commitment to playing its vital role in ensuring Australians continue to have access to the quality, fresh groceries they depend on in these uncertain and challenging times,” Simpson said.

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