Now’s the time to #LoveLocal rural communities
The drought and COVID-19 haven’t clipped the wings of a Dannevirke business, which is buzzing with success and employing more locals.
The hot, dry weather was great from a honey production perspective, Jim McMillan, CEO of The True Honey Company, said.
“This season we’ve harvested good volumes of very high-grade honey and during COVID-19 we experienced a huge uplift in demand from overseas. It’s going through the roof.”
That huge demand for their manuka honey has seen The True Honey Company take on 17 locals in packaging since early 2020, nine of those employed during COVID-19. The company also employed two permanent staff, in their Napier head office during COVID.
“We’ve also taken on the lease of two buildings at Scanpower’s Oringi Business Park,” Jim said. “We’re very grateful to Scanpower and its Customer Trust in assisting us into the new premises. It’s that local help and support which is important.”
Deemed an essential service, the company worked their way through the challenges of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 was a bit of a silver lining for True Honey and the industry, driving awareness of manuka honey around the world,” Jim said.
True Honey is always interested in speaking with landowners with quality manuka blocks and anyone who has good areas suitable for hosting hives over the winter.
However, the lack of rain meant farmers in Tararua faced a crippling drought. Then COVID-19 struck and just when farmers needed stock off their land, the meat works had restricted processing capacity.
Along with other Tararua farmers, this was the situation Weber farmers Simon and Trudy Hales of Kereru Farm had to face.
The couple took a hard look at their farming practises as the drought hit, followed by COVID-19.
Caption: True Honey Co Team are Buzzing about their Manuka Honey Haul
“For Simon farming didn’t stop, but it was tough coming off a drought into COVID,” Trudy said. “We struggled getting stock off the farm and the prices we were getting weren’t what we hoped for. And with that extra stock on hand, feed had to be brought in.”
But Simon and Trudy used their “experts”, a farm consultant, bank manager and accountant to help pull them through.
“They were amazing,” Trudy said. “When the cash flow wasn’t coming in, we used our experts and resources and looked at how we could recover. We wanted to be in the best possible position, while still planning for the long term and future proofing. We met with our bank manager and had a robust discussion.”
“But the pandemic made everyone even more isolated, so making sure to pick up the phone and talk to neighbours was so important. It was a way to make sure everyone was okay,” Trudy said.
Reaching out to experts was essential too.
“We’ve got a team we can trust, even the guys at Farmlands and PGG Wrightson went out of their way for us. They were awesome,” Trudy said.
“We’re pretty disciplined and stock-wise we’re looking at all the options for the way forward for the next couple of years, making slightly different decisions. We’ve learnt to be more flexible and open-minded and a bit more agile with our farming business.”
Tararua District councillor, Sharon Wards, echoed Trudy’s words, saying COVID-19, the third “crisis” to hit our rural communities and businesses after water shortages and a drought, meant our rural people became more isolated and had to adjust to another way of working.
“For many of them it made little difference to their daily routines, but when they came to sell their stock, purchase their groceries and communicate with their neighbours, there were different challenges and barriers to negotiate,” she said. “There were no weekly stockyard sales, limits on the grocery items to purchase on their monthly shops in town and no chance to catch up with their farming colleagues who were outside their “bubble”.
“During lockdown I was humbled to see the support and advocacy on behalf of our rural communities the mayor, councillors and council staff carried out. It was a civil defence emergency and it was heartening to see the efforts and commitment the EOC team had in ensuring that at a regional level the importance of addressing both drought and COVID-19 issues was imperative.
“As everyone emerges from their bubbles into a recovery phase, it is clear the impact of the drought, in particular, will be long-reaching. Many farmers, with support from our rural professionals and advisers, will be adjusting their strategies and practices to cope with the potential impacts of feed shortages into the spring, finding ways to comply as government introduces new requirements and working out ways to become even more resilient as climate change impacts even more.
“To “love our local” rural people during this time and over many months will be important – for social wellbeing and our economic recovery. It might be as simple as making contact with some of your farming friends for a chat. Supporting our rural businesses by buying local means those businesses can continue to help our farming communities’ way into the future. Let’s not forget it is those small businesses which help sponsor school sports teams or help out with social events, providing a much-needed break for our farmers.”
The impacts of the drought will be long-lasting.
“But appreciating the money farmers spend in our towns on the occasional flat white, buying some outdoor gear at our retailers and keeping on top of their accounts at our rural suppliers, will be what keeps the “love local” story going for them.”
“Let’s keep the #LoveLocalTararua focus on our farming communities for many months to come.”
Living in lockdown was tough for those living rurally with limited or no connectivity in a period where this was increasingly relied upon for communication, Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis said.
“Council and Connect Tararua have lobbied hard in this area to improve this in our district. We look forward to the eight new towers planned this year and will continue to work hard for our communities to create equity and opportunity in our rural sector.
“With the combination of the Government response to the global pandemic, a significant drought, physical isolation, and for some, unreliable digital connectivity, it amazes me how people just keep on adjusting, putting one foot in front of the other making it through these challenges. It demonstrates the can-do, innovative, hard-working approach to life our people have.
“There will be less money flowing around as a result of the drought but farmers continue to spend on necessities in their businesses.
“To our farmers, keep doing what you are doing so well - supporting each other, your communities, our local agricultural businesses, and producing some of New Zealand’s best food.”
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Caption: Trudy and Simon Hales talking about the support of their "team"