Poll finds a growing public appreciation of NZ’s primary exports – and new trade stats underscore their importance

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.

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