with Mike Chapman
The New Year is a good time to look to the future of one of New Zealand’s growth industries. Horticulture, not including wine, is currently valued at $5.6 billion, with export value in the last year growing by 35 per cent.
This pattern of growth looks set to continue, provided some key ingredients are available to sustain it.
It’s looking likely we will meet the industry target of $10 billion in value by 2020. This is because New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to grow fruit and vegetables – we have the light of Spain and the climate of Bordeaux, France.
Land, water and labour are the key ingredients and they are all in short supply. As part of Horticulture New Zealand election manifesto and, in our work with the Government since it took office, we have had a strong focus on protecting our elite soils from houses and life-style blocks. Only about five per cent of New Zealand is suitable for growing fruit and vegetables.
Class one soils
When the requirements of climate and water are added to the need for quality soil, the options become more restricted.
Class one soil, the best there is, can be used to grow sustainably and productively. The lower the class of soil, the more inputs are required and productivity reduces. In addition, frosts, hail and pests are considerations.
Pukekohe, for example, is relatively frost and pest free and has most of the class one soil that is found in the Auckland area. So keeping current ideal growing locations and finding new locations that are similar, is vital.
Moving growing south of Pukekohe into the Waikato is, in effect, not permitted at present by the Waikato Regional Council.
Houses and life style blocks are pushing growing further out from the towns and cities. This is not new and has been happening ever since New Zealand was settled by Europeans. On the outskirts of each town, the fruit and vegetables for that town were grown. As the towns grew, the growing operations had to move further out. Then, with modern transportation, places where fruit and vegetables were grown were located in areas best suited to each crop.
Horticulture New Zealand has asked the Government to develop a policy that will ensure that our fruit and vegetables continue to be grown in the best possible places, spread around the country to ensure that there is a year-round supply for New Zealanders.
Access to labour is one of the other major constraints. Both permanent and seasonal workers across the country are in short supply. In the South Island, where there is low unemployment, finding New Zealanders for work is very difficult.
Growers are reliant on workers from overseas. For seasonal work, back packers and Pacific Island workers under the RSE scheme are vital. If you cannot prune, plant and harvest at the right times, quality and productivity are affected. This issue was also covered on Horticulture New Zealand’s election manifesto and is being followed up with the Government.
Finally, there is the absolute need for water. The realisation that we do not have abundant water supply has become very apparent to the New Zealand public, along with concerns over water quality.
Storage of water is the main solution – capturing when there is a lot of rain and keeping for the dry times. Capturing the water when there is a lot of rain helps prevent floods and damage to river banks. In a lot of cases, it keeps rivers and streams running during dry periods by controlled release from storage.
There are also schemes to re-charge aquifers. This makes the capital investment of developing land for horticulture much more expensive. Once again, this is an issue that we are engaging with the Government on.
So to enable continued growth to reach our target of $10 billion by 2020, we need support from the Government to ensure we have the right land, permissive immigration settings that support growth where there are no local workers, and access to water through storage schemes.