The positive identity of the kiwifruit industry has a direct impact upon grower profitability, and on regional and national GDP, says Mike Murphy, who is New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc’s communications manager and a Kellogg’s Rural Leadership scholar.
“While Zespri is primarily responsible for the brand, kiwifruit growers have an important role in promoting a positive identity for the kiwifruit industry.”
With the industry’s current rapid growth, Mike says one of the challenges is how to “create a common understanding, sentiment and acceptance which encourages individual growers to practise their business in such a way that promotes a positive identity of the kiwifruit industry”.
That’s a question he hopes to answer as part of the six-month Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme he joined earlier this year. Mike is one of 22 men and women from a wide variety of rural careers, who’ve been accepted into the leadership programme that includes time at Lincoln University and in Wellington.
The experience so far has been both stimulating and sobering, says Mike. The Kellogg programme is highly respected and extremely well networked, which means those taking part have been addressed by some of the country’s top rural leaders, politicians, including Ministers, and government officials – many of them previous Kellogg participants.
“We have discussed topics such as the role of local and regional government, the international trading environment, Maori agribusiness, the future of agrifood, the role of NGOs and interest groups and lobbyists.”
In light of the Government’s National Fresh Water Policy Statement, Mike has been asking leaders about environmental sustainability and business profitability. “I want to know if there should be an ability to scale back some of the environmental conditions if there was a recession and businesses were struggling. I’ve had a range of answers from ‘no’ to ‘yes’.”
The working title for Mike’s final Kellogg’s report is: ‘Growers’ role in promoting the value of New Zealand kiwifruit: Mechanisms which encourage the use of best practice to create a positive identity’. Encouraging growers to adopt best practice is one means of achieving a positive identity, but Mike says if the majority of growers operate at best practice or beyond, that will enhance the reputation of the Zespri brand and help ensure its longevity and success in a changing marketplace.
It is imperative growers recognise how their actions can impact on the wider industry, including ensuring the health and safety and correct pay of those working on their orchards, to water quality and how growers care for the environment.
Urban encroachment onto New Zealand’s horticultural land and public scrutiny, both on and offshore, is increasing and growers can no longer take for granted the right to grow.
“That’s why applying best practice to every aspect of orchard management is so important and contributes to enhancing everyone’s bottom line.
“The Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme is helping me strengthen my leadership skills so that I can contribute further to the development of the kiwifruit industry’s communication,” says Mike.