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"Everything must line up for horticulture’s continued success"

September saw the government finally unveil its National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land. HortNZ, like other members of the horticulture industry, has cautiously welcomed the direction to local government that the policy provides, saying that for our industry’s continued success, everything needs to line up, hortNZ announces.

That is, growers also need access to water and other inputs like fertilizer, affordable, skillful, and reliable labor, fit-for-purpose compliance, freight infrastructure, and market access if the horticulture industry is to prosper again and reach its potential. 

There is nothing more devastating for a grower to put their heart and soul into growing a crop only for it to be left to go to waste because there are not enough people to harvest it. That has been the reality for several growers, especially since Covid struck in early 2020, with its ensuing erosion of investment confidence and wellbeing.

In September, we also negotiated with the government about the cap for the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme for 2022-2023. In the end, we got a very positive outcome for the sector – a cap increase to 19,000, which provides certainty to enable growers to continue to invest in accommodation facilities. 

Further discussions about the future of the scheme will start early in 2023. Our industry would like to see the Pacific, as well as the government’s tripartite group of industry, unions, and the government, come together in good faith, mapping out a future for the scheme that is great for everybody involved. 

Our industry’s diversity – while a strength from some perspectives – can also be a weakness when it comes to advocacy in Wellington. That is why the Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan – discussed at the Horticulture Industry Forum in late September – is so important. This plan will provide us with a platform on which to line up all our advocacy and gain cut through with governments over the next few, particularly vital years. 

It is now obvious to all that growing in New Zealand will have changed markedly by the time we get to 2035. By then, it is planned that we will have doubled the value of commercial vegetable and fruit growing and, more importantly, improved farmgate margins. We will also have responded to all the things that have to line up for horticulture to continue to be successful.

Much like what we said around highly productive land for several years – ‘with good planning, we can have vegetables and fruit, as well as houses’ – horticulture’s future success needs to be well planned and delivered to a vision.

That vision is not hard to describe. It is about maintaining, if not enhancing, our reputation with New Zealand and international customers. This is not solely about the quality of our produce but also about how it is grown, picked, packed, transported, and sold. If one of these things is not up to scratch, we will lose our competitive advantage as quickly as overnight. Social media will see to that, and no, it will not be an objective response. It will be purely subjective.

That is why Horticulture New Zealand is focusing continually on our industry’s social license. If we lose that, we will have lost our ability to advocate for all the variables that have an impact on horticulture’s sustainability to be lined up. 

As growers, you understand first-hand how the variables that affect the practice of growing have to align for you to be successful. It is very similar in the policy and compliance space. That is the message we are conveying with the Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan so that successive governments can understand how everything needs to relate for our industry to be prosperous. 

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