Currant grower meeting challenges

South Canterbury blackcurrant grower Hamish McFarlane. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
South Canterbury blackcurrant grower Hamish McFarlane. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Hamish McFarlane is a third-generation blackcurrant grower with a farm 10 minutes north of Temuka.

He grows the superfood, with a mix of cattle and the odd vegetable, for Barkers of Geraldine.

Covid-19 Alert Level 4 allowed business to continue for the McFarlane family but there were challenges.

‘‘We were pretty uncertain what the future was going to hold for us. Once we went into lockdown we were unsure with what government levels immediately meant,’’ he said.

‘‘We are a business that grows for domestic and export production. I think because the two are so intertwined, the government made a good decision to keep both going.’’

‘‘We were lucky. I guess when it kicked in, a lot of our staff were quite worried about catching Covid-19 and, all of a sudden, concerned that they had a higher risk of catching it than if we did not come to work,’’ he said.

‘‘It took a few days for people to understand that they were safer going to work under lockdown than they were going to work beforehand. In theory.’’

There were initial comments of ‘‘why should we put ourselves at risk for the sake of someone else’s product’’, but Mr McFarlane said after a day or two they got over it.

‘‘Being an essential business, you had to register with the Ministry of Primary Industries and show that you had certain procedures and protocols in place around isolation and giving people enough room to work in.’’

Mr McFarlane said a lot of their rules were basic.

‘‘When one person hopped out of a tractor, wash it down and wipe it out. When the next person hops in they wipe it down, and so on. It is a bit awkward when you have to go and get something and another person has to stand on top of the ute,’’ he joked.

‘‘It ended up being pretty much business as usual but we are definitely limiting operations on the farm ... We are worried about making sure the stock are fed and watered, and digging vegetables, but have not been worrying about non-essential project work.’’

Mr McFarlane said it had not been hard because they had been ‘‘bloody busy.’’

‘‘I have noticed the lockdown has put a lot of pressure on my wife Bridget. I am at work all of the time and more than normal, as we are slightly short-staffed. She is stuck with the kids trying to fit around her normal day job.’’

Bridget McFarlane works as a resource management consultant.

Services such as consents, applications and information requests under the Resource Management Act were still being treated as an essential service during Level 4.

‘‘We have managed but it has put a wee bit of pressure on the home front,’’ he said.

‘‘I think the next six months to a year are when we will see the long-term impact of this lockdown on the rural community much more. We might see a drop in demand for product, especially high-end meat cuts.’’

The blackcurrant industry, which boasts an annual turnover of $6million, will wait to compare harvest statistics from last year with 2020.

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