Kiwi primary sector proving its worth during coronavirus outbreak

While parts of the New Zealand economy are essentially at a standstill, exporters say our primary sector's proving its worth right now.

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Food producers are working to feed both local and global markets. Source: 1 NEWS

Food producers are working to feed both local and global markets, but with fewer workers and stricter safety measures in place.

Nelson-based seafood giant Sealord has been able to continue factory and vessel operations for the foreseeable future. The company says it already had strict safety and hygiene standards before Covid-19, but been stepped up.

Before beginning work on site, staff and contractors must pass through a checkpoint, which involves having their temperature checked and signing a declaration form.

Chief Operating Officer Doug Paulin says they’ve looked “at every spot, on every line and we've asked our staff, ‘well what things do you think we could do that could improve our safety and the potential risk for you on the line?’.

Since then, screens have been erected inside factories and workers have extra space between them.

“We've sacrificed production, so we're definitely running slower now so we'll produce less but as I’ve said to everyone… It's safety first, production second,” explains Mr Paulin.

Sealord is heading into hoki season but is still short on labour, unable to hire the expected numbers of overseas workers.
But Mr Paulin says they’re hopeful “we'll actually be able to fill the jobs we need with New Zealanders who currently have been adversely affected by Covid-19.

According to Stats NZ, in the past year key food and drink exports were worth nearly 38 billion dollars to the New Zealand economy, that's more than 60 percent of our export earnings.

Trade Minister David Parker says while global markets are uncertain, there’s strong demand for New Zealand food. Dairy remains our biggest export and prices are holding up.

He thanked the many New Zealanders who make up “an important part of the domestic food chain”.

“Not just the farmers but the truckers, the pickers, the pack house workers those in the freezing works, the ports and airline staff and seafarers, as well as the hospitality and supermarket staff”.

Mr Parker also acknowledged “the many tens of thousands who have lost their jobs or whose livelihoods and businesses are under threat; who are making huge sacrifices to help keep us all safe”.

ExportNZ Executive Director Catherine Beard says Kiwi exporters “are going to be hugely important” to the country.

“Sometimes we've heard that New Zealand needs to move away from agriculture and other things and while its great to have a diversified economy, and our digital exporters are really important too… In these tough times, food is so resilient, its a great thing to have in the mix”.