Opinion: Celebrating sustainability in horticulture

  • Opinion
  • 12/06/2019

By Mike Chapman
OPINION: Last week the Ballance Farm Environment Sustainability national awards ceremony were held in Hamilton and, amongst the regional finalists competing for the national title, there was a very successful and comprehensively sustainable horticulture business from Whangarei. 

Last year's national winners grow Kiwifruit in Opotiki and are outstanding sustainability growers, advocates and leaders. The Ballance Farm Environment Awards celebrate and promote sustainable farming and growing practices that are operated with strong environmental, social and economic sustainability outcomes.

It is no coincidence that horticulture businesses are strong competitors in this, and similar competitions due to what and how we grow.

When this competition started nearly 20 years ago that concept and adoption of sustainable farming practices were not as widespread or as accepted as it is today. Although as intergenerational stewards of the land, great care was taken to ensure that the land was passed from generation to generation in better condition and able to support the next generation.

There was not the focus, there now is on all forms of sustainability. In that short period of time comprehensive sustainability has become a bottom-line requirement, not something new but a daily part of every farming and growing operation.
We are on the cusp of some monumental changes in how we live, what and where we grow our food and how we grow it.

These changes are coming not only from a greater understanding of the need for sustainability but from the need to mitigate climate change. The quantum step we are about to experience will need to utilise technology still in its development phase, embrace new technics and impose changes to our everyday life.

One of the other main drivers for this change is what our consumers in New Zealand and across the world are demanding. 
No longer can New Zealand be considered a small and isolated domestic market, we are part of the global marketplace where consumers here and overseas are demanding adherence to comprehensive sustainability. 

Not only are consumers eating more plant-based products but they also want to know the growing story. 
They want to know what they are eating and to understand the product's sustainability attributes. 

This trend is being matched by multi-national companies that are becoming protein agnostic and developing plant-based protein programmes. To deliver on the consumer's need for not only the freshest, healthiest and best products, and products with robust and comprehensive sustainability stories, technology will have a vital role to play.

Here we are at the start line. We need to embrace these changes, commission the research and development, embrace technological enhancements and experimentation, so that we can meet the dual challenges of climate change and the increasingly demanding consumer.

Mike Chapman is Chief Executive of Horticulture New Zealand.