Farming in a bubble

Galetea farm owners Gerald and Kielee Mathis in their bubble, with daughter Nicole, front. Photo: Supplied

Despite many initial questions about how farming in a bubble would work, especially with the Alert Level 4 lockdown coinciding with autumn calving, it seems the industry has taken the regulations in their stride.

In the Waikato, immedieate past Federated Farmers provincial president Andrew McGiven says not too much has changed in his dairy farm’s operation, besides social distancing with suppliers and delivery people coming on-farm.

A contract-milker milks the cows, while Andrew and his wife, Jen, rear the calves. They’ve recently finished autumn calving about 165 cows, and will later spring-calve around 360.

“Luckily, Jen is a vet and takes care of our on-farm veterinary needs, unless she needs back-up. This has been great, as we’ve been able to maintain our farm bubble quite well.

“We still converse daily with our family and contract-milker’s family – so the farm boundary is a bubble rather than our household.

“With deliveries, we stay two-plus metres from drivers, and if unloading I give the guy a wave and don’t go outside the door until he’s gone.”

For Galetea farm owner Gerald Mathis, life hasn’t changed much either.

His work bubble includes his worker, and occasional on-farm help from the family.

“There are instances on the farm where you can’t keep two metres apart, like when an animal needs attending to,” says Gerald.

“But, keeping distance from people when we pick things up from Farm Source and the vets, is easy. We just call in advance, and it’s left outside the building for us.” The farm hasn’t been completely immune to the dystopian world of Covid-19.

“We had people come to the farm to do some blood tests, all masked up. Two of them arrived in the same car but were still trying to keep their distance, so one sat in the back as far as they possibly could from the driver. It was a funny sight.”

Federated Farmers BOP president Darryl Jensen says farmers have been relying more on delivery services to get their supplies during lockdown. He describes it as “Uber Eats for farming”.

“It’s as easy as calling and having things delivered, or calling a shop in advance and picking it up,” says Darryl.

“The protocol for picking things up is certainly a longer process, but farmers know that the regulations are there for a reason, and retailers have been great at accommodating.”

As the country went into Alert Level 4 lockdown farmers with five or more workers had to register with the Ministry of Primary Industries, to ensure work could be conducted without risking the spread of Covid-19.

Darryl says open communication has been key to keeping everyone safe. “It’s about having those conversations, so you can trust that those in your work bubble are following the rules when they go home, and when they travel to work.”

While now in Alert Level 2, Gerald says it’ll be a long time before the industry goes back to normal.

“Even after Alert Level 2, there will still be a level of uncertainty, with predictions indicting next year’s payout will drop significantly. It’s a still waiting game.”


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