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Fresh produce industry calls for guarantee that shutdown won’t impact food production and supply

Australian Organic and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) are calling on government to ensure agriculture and the food supply chain are listed as ‘essential’ services amid the shutdown prompted by the spread of COVID-19.

NFF president Fiona Simson said the federation has been assured that agriculture and the food supply chain will not be interrupted, despite the closure of travel between some states but said the confirmation of agriculture as an essential service, by the states and the Commonwealth, would guarantee that measures to control the spread of COVID-19 does not affect food production and supply.

“The continued provision of quality fresh produce is paramount to safeguarding the wellbeing and health of the nation. Our state farming member organisations have been having similar conversations with their state governments,” NFF president Fiona Simson said.

Australian Organic has been in weekly meetings with NFF and said it will continue to support the federation during the current crisis.

“The NFF is committed to ensuring modern farming is not only viable and sustainable but continues its vital and growing contribution to the nation despite any challenging circumstances. The organic agricultural sector makes up a significant portion of the industry, and we will be endeavouring to make sure the needs of organic growers are met during these difficult times,” Australian Organic CEO Niki Ford said.

The 2019 Australian Organic Market Report revealed there is over 35 million hectares (9.6 per cent farmland) that is under certified organic management in this country.

“The agriculture industry takes human health seriously and is taking appropriate measures to ensure this is a priority. That being said, the transport of produce from farm to market must be able to happen unobstructed – this includes across state borders. Likewise, for the logistics that ensure the flow of essential agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and crop protection products,” Simson added.

No shortage of fresh produce

Australian farmers have assured people there is more than enough food as shoppers continue to strip supermarket shelves amid the coronavirus pandemic.

NSW Farmers vice president Chris Groves warned the global virus pandemic will impact Australia’s produce export but assured Australians that there will be more than enough food for them.

“The hens are still laying eggs, the dairy cows are still being milked, grain growers are preparing winter crops, orchards are still bearing fruit,” Groves said.

Australia does not rely on imported fresh food and currently exports about 75 per cent of its produce.

Meanwhile, a representive body for the egg industry has moved to assure the public that there is enough supply in the market to meet current demand.

Rowan McMonnies, managing director of Australian Eggs, said that although retailers have limited egg purchases due to the huge demand, there will still be a continuous supply.

“Australia’s 21 million hens are still laying eggs and farmers are working around the clock to get those eggs to their customers. We’re confident of maintaining steady supply through Autumn and Winter and there will be eggs readily available when the short-term stockpiling and panic buying stops,” McMonnies said in a statement.

“Of course, egg farmers are concerned about the potential impact of coronavirus on their staff and wider supply chains but there have been no reports of disruptions across the industry.”

Egg farms are also reconfiguring their operations to minimise the risk of having a staff affected by coronavirus halt operations.

“We have had to rethink the way we do things to provide for stricter team separation and some of the same social distancing principles that are being applied in public. These measures will go a long way to mitigating risks and underpin continuity of egg supply for Australian consumers,” McMonnies said.

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