With Covid-19 effectively cancelling the annual meeting of the Tractor and Machinery Association (TAMA), this year’s event was conducted by teleconferencing.
“It is always a massive responsibility being an employer and a privilege to have people working for you but during this time there is extra responsibility,” he told Dairy News.
“This is especially around the two-metre isolation rule.”
DairyNZ and Federated Farmers are meeting each morning including their immigration and employment teams to discuss the challenges and what can be done to support farmers.
There is a lot of work getting underway to help farmers around policies, guidelines and Q&As and those sorts of things. The Federated Farmers website is being constantly updated.
The main challenge for a dairy farmer at this time is around keeping people safe.
“For myself I employ a team of seven. And they have family so I have to keep them all safe. They all have self-isolation and I have to make them all safe,” Lewis told Dairy News.
“We are enforcing that around milking and have a bit different ways of doing things.
“Everyone has got to ride their own motorbike, if they use a commonly used tractor or tool they must wear gloves. I have hand wash sanitiser down at the cow shed, brushes to keep you clean and am encouraging guys every day to have clean clothes on, clean overalls.
“When they see contractors come on farm – like this morning I had to have an electrician - smile and wave at them or have the conversation from afar.
“I have sent a photograph of the broken equipment or a video of the issue so before they come out they know exactly what the issue is so they can bring the right part and be efficient.
“Some of those things I have practiced for a long time before Covid-19.
“There are lots of things we can do and at the moment, all of us, we are learning.”
He encourages farmers to share their learning with the likes of Federated Farmers and DairyNZ.
“Tag us into social media posts because there will be a lot smarter farmers out there than just us industry people. We want to hear all our farmers’ great ideas, their great insights. So please email me, message me your videos, tag me in. We all need to be working as a massive community looking after each other.
“Not just on policies, on social communication, Facetime, messaging – I’d love to hear from you.”
Initial labour shortages or workers not turning up could happen.
“But in my local community there are a lot of kids that have come home from overseas, from university or different places. They all have no money. So there will be a lot of people putting their hand up for jobs in the next few months.”
Those returning from overseas will need to be in quarantine-type isolation for two weeks.