Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says the primary sector will play a critical role in NZ’s economic recovery once the country emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown.
It is the first time (at least within Point of Order’s close surveillance of the issue) that a coalition minister has acknowledged how the pandemic has shifted the dial inside the economy.
O’Connor says there is no shortage of demand for what NZ produces.
“Our primary sector is part of the solution to global food security concerns in the short-term”.
The government is working alongside the primary sector to help ensure workers get to the places they are needed.
“We are currently investigating further ways we can boost the primary sector essential workforce through the government’s $100m redeployment scheme.
“I know, from conversations I’ve had with industry leaders, that the primary sector is very conscious of the fact that it is in the privileged position of being deemed an essential service.
“They are very aware that other sectors are doing it tough and they want to do what they can to help. They know, just as the government does, that the best thing to do right now is keep people connected to jobs.
“The government is doing that through the wage subsidy that has paid out about $6bn to date, the primary sector wants to give those who have lost jobs opportunities in its sector”.
Noting the horticulture sector has long been one of NZ’s star performers, contributing around $6bn a year to the economy, O’Connor says it is also becoming a lifeline for a number of redeployed workers from industries such as tourism, forestry and hospitality.
NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc. reports some businesses now have a workforce of over 90% NZers, compared with around 50% last season. Last week, more than 100 workers were placed in jobs in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Nelson orchards. The pipfruit industry has seen around 200 workers from other industries placed into jobs across the country.
O’Connor, underlining workers are in high demand, says around 20,000 more are needed.
He thanks farmers, growers, meat workers, fruit pickers and all the others who are helping the primary sector to keep operating as an essential service during the Covid-19 global pandemic.
In the context of how vital the primary sector has become not only in providing jobs but also in keeping foreign exchange flowing into the economy, there was positive news from two channels this week.
The ANZ World Commodity Price index dropped 2.1% in March, but in local currency terms the index actually lifted 3.3% due to a sharp fall in the NZ dollar.
The latest Fonterra global dairy trade auction index this week gained 1.2%, a welcome change from the previous three recording small falls.. Wholemilk powder (the key commodity in determining Fonterra’s milk payout to farmers) rose 2.1% to $US2820.