National Farmers’ Federation Chief Executive Officer, Tony Mahar says agriculture is feeling the effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus) on multiple fronts.
“The most obvious impact is on Australian farm exports,” Mr Mahar said.
“Seventy-five per cent of what we produce is exported. On average one third of these exports go to key markets including China, Korea and Japan, whose combined exports are valued at approximately $17 billion per annum.
“The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Science forecasts the effects of coronavirus could wipe $389 million off the bottom line of Australia’s seafood industry alone.”
Mr Mahar said outside of seafood, the impact on agriculture was not yet as significant as for other industries but the sector was closely tracking developments as the crisis deepened.
“The longer this situation goes on and the more countries impacted, the larger the challenge for our industry to deliver food and fibre to consumers.
“Restrictions on travel and people movement in impacted countries has seen a decline in consumer demand, particularly high-end, quality products that Australia is renowned for.
“Restrictions on movement are also affecting supply chains with air and port capacity tightening.
There are other risks that are of concern to growers.
A large proportion of the agricultural sector including horticulture, pork and grain sectors use seasonal workers or backpackers to harvest crops. As a result there are risks to the sector’s workforce security should the travel restrictions increase.
“Banana farmers for example are harvesting and packing every week of the year,” Mr Mahar said.
“We do not want to see a threat to the supply of fruits such as bananas, berries and citrus should there be a major disruption to these working visa arrangements.
“The NFF will continue to work with government on measures that protect human health and maintain fundamental biosecurity standards, but also where appropriate, on measures to ensure workers are available to harvest produce that would otherwise rot on the ground.
“In 2020, our farm sector depends on a global supply chain from paddock to plate as well as access to essential inputs made in China and other countries,” Mr Mahar said.
“For example, many businesses rely on specialised packaging and other inputs. Without this packaging farmers may not be able to deliver and present their product to market.”
Mr Mahar said there was also some concern for the continued access to crop-protection products.
“Limits on people movement in China initially caused delays to shipments of some key inputs required to bring together the major crop production and protection systems used within Australian agriculture.
“These delays coupled with increased demand for products after good rainfall, have seen supply tighten.”
Mr Mahar said the NFF was in ongoing consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, commodity groups and agribusiness on the evolving potential for a serious, detrimental impact on agriculture from coronavirus.
“It’s a dynamic and serious scenario that is playing out. While it’s not yet at the critical stage, the situation continues to worsen and accordingly, the NFF continues to monitor developments closely.
“We will continue to identify key risks and challenges and ensure government has a whole-of-industry perspective as we work together to reduce the risks from COVID-19,” Mr Mahar said.