Support our farmers so they can feed the nation

COVID-19 triggers need for rural service support

Beef
The beef industry has plenty of food to send down the line, more than enough to get Australians through the current coronavirus crisis.

The beef industry has plenty of food to send down the line, more than enough to get Australians through the current coronavirus crisis.

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Cattle Council CEO Travis Tobin says our industry has important work to do in feeding the nation and helping feed the world.

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The panic in our supermarkets and at our butcher shops over the past month has painted a clear picture - people in our cities desperately need people in the regions to keep producing food and get it to market.

The beef industry has plenty of food to send down the line. More than enough to get Australians through the current coronavirus crisis. So, while it was encouraging to see that after toilet paper our product was the next essential good people considered they needed to stockpile, there is no chance we will run out of red meat.

Our industry has important work to do in feeding the nation and helping feed the world.

So, while across the supply chain we're putting plans in place to make sure clean and nutritious beef can continue to get from farm to frying pan in the face of challenging circumstances, governments have an important role in ensuring cattle and human resources are able to move efficiently across jurisdictional borders to keep the supply chain open.

Encouragingly, federal, state and territory governments have declared agriculture an 'essential service' and are working through how we keep the supply chain, which does not observe state lines, open.

And with about 75 per cent of beef exported, it will be critical that industry and government continue to work effectively together to keep logistics and ports at home and in importing countries functioning properly. So far so good, but there are challenges looming.

Our industry has important work to do in feeding the nation and helping feed the world. - Travis Tobin, Cattle Council of Australia CEO

Governments also need to make sure essential services in rural and regional communities can cope with the virus. COVID-19 is already present in a number of important food production regions including NSW's Hunter Valley, Queensland's Darling Downs, WA's south-west and in central Victoria.

Regional healthcare has been lagging city services for generations. Now it is more important than ever that we make sure the regions have well-resourced health services.

But the rural healthcare sector cannot take the load alone. There's a number of opportunities to 'flatten the curve' in the bush, and ease pressure on the overall system.

Schools across the country are moving to off-campus education with online lessons to prevent the spread of the virus through the community. This makes sense in the cities and towns where families have fast broadband at home, but it is challenging for rural communities and on farms without the same bandwidth.

Governments must ensure regional, rural and remote kids can get an equal education without stepping foot in a classroom. As more students take online classes from home, already stretched services such as fixed wireless NBN will come under increased pressure.

Another matter is logistics. Every producer needs to go into town from time-to-time to stock up. They might only make the trip once every one or two months. That makes arbitrary limits on how much they can buy at the supermarket a big problem.

Limits on long-life goods encourage our food producers to travel to town more often, increasing the risk of infection through contact with others.

Supermarket supply chains have been challenged across the country recently, but systems need to be put in place that make remote producers a priority so they can come to town, stock up and get back to work.

Some restrictions have been eased but they're based on availability which won't meet the basic needs of producers on remote stations.

Remote farming families don't have the luxury of checking the supermarket shelves again tomorrow or next week. This needs to be addressed swiftly. It's a simple equation, if the supermarkets want security of food supply from producers, they need to give security of food supply to producers.

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