My last few columns have dealt with the potential impact of Covid-19 on world trade, exports to China and meat processors, but suddenly in the last two weeks the virus has become the main factor in our lives. What was previously just a growing concern has, with alarming speed, destabilised the whole global economy with no certainty about how or when, even whether, it will revert to normal.
On the personal front, little more than two weeks ago the annual Warkworth A&P Show which I chair was cancelled, closely following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a ban on mass gatherings. A planned holiday in Morocco and Portugal in September won’t happen this year and, with the uncertainty about timeframes for a vaccine, border restrictions and the survival of airlines, may not happen at all.
Less than a week after the scheduled date for the cancelled Show, the country was in lockdown, which at least put the rest of the country on the same level of restrictions as over 70s who had already been told to stay home. While I understand the need for older people to protect themselves, both in their own and the general interest, as a fit and healthy over 70, I find it more than a little irritating to be treated as if I’m infirm, especially since five days earlier I would have been jointly responsible for putting on a large community event.
This would have been the 153rd time the A&P Show has been held, with previous cancellations only occurring during the two world wars and infrequently because of rain. The planning for this year can be transferred to 2021 when hopefully we will be able to go ahead without problem. With what appears in retrospect to be remarkable foresight, I had already told the A&P committee I would retire after next year’s Show, little realising at the time this year wouldn’t happen.
Since lockdown began, my wife Vanessa, our two dogs and I (our bubble) have settled into a routine which involves longer than usual walks, fertilising the vegetable garden and planting seedlings which need regular watering in the still drought affected north, phoning children, grandchildren and friends, much reading and listening to the radio, interspersed with music or silence when the news gets too repetitive and depressing. This morning, magically, we were caught in a downpour while out walking the dogs, but there’s no sign of the drought breaking in the foreseeable future. Walking round our village and at low tide on the estuary, we can practise legitimate distant socialising with friends who are doing the same, so lockdown hasn’t entirely removed human contact.
We have been successful in restricting our shopping trips to a minimum, although I’m on the horns of a dilemma, whether to stay at home as required by my age or avoid overloading the local supermarkets’ online ordering capacity. We can now devote plenty of time to planning and preparing gourmet meals to entertain and sustain us, although it doesn’t pay to include cauliflower on the menu, now costing as much as $15. I was lucky enough to place an online order with our local butcher who thought he could supply during the lockdown, but suddenly had to fulfil the first week’s orders for immediate collection before midnight on the Wednesday.
A big advantage of being forced to stay at home has been the chance to do relatively little without a sense of guilt; it’s amazing how easy it is to get swept up in a whole range of trivial commitments which have suddenly disappeared in these extraordinary times. The diary has emptied of real appointments which have been only partly replaced by virtual arrangements like an online doctor’s call to renew a prescription.
There is a big contrast between the expanded time available for personal activities and the speed at which world and national events are moving. Another massive contrast is how the pandemic has crowded out other news and government priorities. Murders, car crashes, me too and Harry and Meghan are no longer plastered over websites and newspapers. It’s tempting to hope farmers may be left to get on with farming and growing food to supply New Zealand and international consumers instead of being bludgeoned by the constant imposition of environmental regulation.
This might of course only be a short blip before everything returns to normal. But it’s possible this pandemic may bring the world to its senses and put the brakes on what had become unbridled consumerism, making people less intent on growth whatever the cost. In a more restrained post Covid-19 world, sports may be restricted to their seasons, pollution may not return to previous extremes and agriculture will still be seen as a crucial contributor to the global economy.
In New Zealand at least, the population may come to the grudging realisation agriculture remains the one truly sustainable foundation of our past, present and future prosperity. We would be stuffed without it!
Current schedule and saleyard prices are available in the right-hand menu of the Rural section of this website. This article was first pubilshed in Farmers Weekly. It is here with permission.