By Anne Lee

Farmers are being strongly urged to plan for a positive case of Covid-19 on the farm so they’re not caught unprepared and can smoothly continue to keep the farm running.

DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb New Zealand and other primary sector groups have been working with Ministry of Health and Ministry of Primary Industry officials to get answers to the myriad of questions farmers have as the country moves to a likely state of more widespread community transmission.

As vaccination targets are reached more freedoms to travel and meet will likely bring an increase in positive cases and although it may not necessarily mean people who are double vaccinated become very ill, they will still have to isolate.

People who are close contacts of a positive case will also have to isolate, regardless of vaccination status.

That could all put pressure on remaining staff and in some cases on smaller farms, could mean the entire workforce is out of action.

DairyNZ Covid-19 project lead Hamish Hodgson says the Ministry of Health has indicated it is up to the Medical Officer of Health in each region’s District Health Board (DHB) to decide if a person who has tested positive can safely self-isolate at home or should be moved to another location.

“What’s clear from our discussions with the Ministry of Health and DHB’s is that the decision on whether someone can isolate at home, onfarm or continue working will depend on the health status of the person and the situation on that particular farm.

“Having a clear, pre-thought-out plan on how people can safely remain isolated, that can then be discussed with the Medical Officer of Health will make that process more straightforward,” he says.

Federated Farmers facilitated a webinar with Ministry of Health officials and Southland’s Medical Officer of Health for the Southern DHB Dr Michael Butchard in November to help answer farmers’ questions.

The aim of isolation is to stop the spread of the disease.

He was asked if a farmer, who was deemed able to isolate onfarm, could then work on the farm.

“If you are able to convince us you can work without spreading it to anyone else – in theory we’d say ok that’s all right,” he said.

That would mean being isolated from others onfarm or being a sole operator.

In reality though some people will be too unwell to work, he warned.

If a person is positive and capable of working, they would not be permitted to travel a distance on a public road to get to other blocks or support areas.

There would be a risk to emergency service staff or anyone who stopped to give assistance in the case of an accident on the road.

While a farmer could have an accident on the farm while self-isolating, emergency services would know who the farmer was and that they were Covid-19 positive if called to the farm.

If you have staff in shared accommodation, it would be necessary to ensure they could be isolated from others.

“That’s where having a pre-prepared plan with a plan B for situations such as this is important,” Hamish says.

It could mean bringing in a campervan or caravan or moving the non-infected people to different accommodation to allow the isolating person to remain where they are.

“Every farm will be different, that’s why the plan should ideally be put together with the whole team, so they can have some input and come up with ways to make it work that will suit everyone while achieving the ultimate outcome of ensuring everyone’s safety,” Hamish says.

As well as living arrangements, the plan needs to include policies on how you will safely milk, how people will keep a safe distance from each other, how you will eliminate vehicle sharing or introduce a safe procedure so the vechile is ventilated and wiped out before another person uses it and how meetings and communication will occur.

“It’s about looking at the jobs that are coming up and how they can safely be carried out so there’s no contact.”

The whole team needs to understand and have access to the plan so they can talk through it with the Medical Officer of Health if they are contacted.

Contingency plans need to be made to enable others to step in and run the farm, if the usual team is unable to do so.

“Talk to your neighbours or other contacts now so you have a plan for this.

“We have a good template with prompts for the things you need to think about and write up instructions and directions for in our contingency planning tool online which is available for farmers to look at and work on now.”

It needs to cover off the details on how to turn on the shed, how to do the wash, a farm map, who the staff are, key phone numbers, where keys or instructions and written procedures are kept, what cows are being fed and how much and what tasks are coming up onfarm including contractors due onfarm.

Industry groups and MPI will be available to facilitate emergency plans if an animal welfare issue arises because no one can milk cows or shift them to new breaks but the push to get farmers to set up their own contingency plans now aims to avoid those situations arising.

In all cases of a positive Covid-19 test result onfarm the milk processor must be informed as soon as this is known to allow them to plan the next steps for the farm given the disease has been deemed a notifiable disease.

Contractors should be informed if there is a positive case onfarm or someone is self-isolating but they can come onfarm to carry out their work providing they have no contact with others.

“The key is to be prepared and work through it now so you’re not scrambling if Covid comes to the farm. It’s easier to work together with the whole team while you have clear heads and it could make all the difference to your animals and businesses in the situation you cannot be there,” Hamish says.

More?Fed farmers: Preparing_for_COVID-19_on-farm_checklist_for_farmers.aspx

DairyNZ contingency plan: business-continuity-planning/