NZ’s primary exports held up well in April, again proving the country’s farming industries are sustaining the economy despite many sectors being stricken by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Almost coincidentally, a UMR probe of public opinion about farming revealed a sharp swing in perception.
Instead of the negativity that had been undermining morale – particularly in the dairy industry, triggered by anti-farming lobby groups which conjured up the slogan “dirty dairying” to turn urban opinion against the industry – the UMR polling showed attitudes have tilted deeper into positive territory.
UMR Research, a skilled operator in its field (better known as the company which does polling for Labour), found in its sampling 63% of those polled had a positive view of sheep and beef farming, a rise of 9% compared with a previous poll on the same issue eight months ago.
Similarly, the perception about dairy farming had also strengthened by 9% , from 51% to 60%.
Horticulture has the top rating of 65%, while fishing clicked over to 53%, up from 47%.
A report of the polling result on the Stuff website noted the reasons given for the higher positivity included farmers being an essential industry for NZ, and their work in supporting the economy with exports and jobs.
Stuff quoted Marc Elliott, director of rural research at UMR as saying the research appeared to show that, in a time of crisis, NZers were more clearly seeing the critical importance of their food-producing sectors
“This should be a small shot in the arm for pastoral farmers who are facing droughts, along with looming regulations and long-term uncertainty in the markets. I keep hearing from farmers that one of their main challenges is negative public perception.
‘While there are pockets of hostility towards our farmers, there is also a growing wave of warmth. When times are good critical aspects of our economy can be taken for granted, however in the current crisis our food producers appear to be receiving the extra credit they deserve”.
As Point of Order sees it, there is still some way to go in the reputational aspect of farming, given how fiercely Some lobby groups sought to undermine its status as the backbone of the economy.
If anyone doubted that farming gives NZ a lifeline to survival after Covid-19 has destroyed other major export industries like tourism, just look at the export statistics for April at the height of the lockdown.
Dairy exports were strong in April 2020 – milk powder exports rose $202m (29%) on April last year. The rise was entirely price-driven with no increase in quantities.
Butter was the only major dairy product to fall in the month – dropping $15m to $126m.
Gold kiwifruit exports continued to rise after a strong showing in March. Gold kiwifruit increased $116m (37%) in April 2020, compared with April 2019. Exports to Japan led this increase, with gold kiwifruit exports to the country more than doubling compared with April last year.
The value of apple exports increased $49m as exporters managed to secure shipments, despite fears of clogged ports and worker shortages.This rise was led by exports to Japan, not typically a major market for apples.
Total exports fell $220m (4%) to $5.3bn in April 2020 compared with the same month last year.
“Total exports would have been worth almost the same as April last year, if they had not been undercut by the big drop in logs,” international statistics manager Darren Allan said.
Exports of logs were worth just $96m in April 2020, down $211m from $307m last April. While the quantity of logs exported fell 69%, the biggest-ever monthly percentage fall, the price has risen to $170 a cubic metre this month after falling to $137 in July 2019.
“Log harvesting was a non-essential service under alert level 4 and didn’t restart until alert level 3 at the end of April, so it is understandable that log exports have dropped sharply,” Allan said.
Most NZ logs are exported to China.
However, the increase in unit price may suggest there is still unmet demand as log inventories in China are run down and export values may bounce back quickly as harvesting picks up again.”
The value of sawn timber exports also fell $61m or 79%, reflecting the log shortage.