Opinion: Horticulture's report card

  • Opinion
  • 27/06/2019

By Mike Chapman

OPINION: This week Hawke's Bay hosts the National Horticulture Fieldays, putting horticulture on display.  It is therefore timely to take a snapshot of where horticultural is at and where it is going.

The biggest and most influential change is that our premium consumers are changing their diets and consuming greater volumes of fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables. 

There is a definite move away from animal proteins. Eating for health and wellness is becoming the dominant reason for food purchase decisions, whether that be because of allergies or environmental awareness or a belief that fresh fruit and vegetables will ensure a longer and healthier life. 

There are many reasons but whatever these reasons are, this trend is driving both growth in volume - the amount of fruit and vegetables being grown - and growth in what consumers are prepared to pay for their fruit and vegetables. 

This change in focus is however being driven from exports, with the new plantings feeding increased overseas demand and with consumers paying premiums for safe, quality and healthy food.  This is demonstrated by exports returns tripling since 1999.

By comparison, domestic volumes and values are generally flat.  This will however progressively change as New Zealand's population grows and consumer preference for fresh, locally grown, healthy food increases. 

The introduction of mandatory country of origin labelling next year will give consumers the ability to be more discerning about what they buy. Consumers are also seeking greater detail about how the food they are eating has been grown and under what environmental regimes.  This trend and thirst for information will only increase.

But there are some roadblocks in the way of continued growth.  Most critically, land is being lost to houses and lifestyle blocks, and developing replacement land with new plantings is blocked in many locations by moratoriums on land use change. 

Access to water is becoming more difficult.  Even though we are blessed by plentiful rainfall, a lack of water storage schemes is curbing growth.  Lastly, labour is in short supply and will continue to be in short supply. 

The prime solution is the adoption of more mechanisation and the use of more technology.  We are going to have to get smart and invest is robotics, and savvy environmental and growing regimes. 

Water storage schemes need to be supported by the government and become commonplace across the country. In addition, both government and councils need to recalibrate their regulatory regimes to enable the growing of fresh fruit and vegetables.  We are going to need to focus on feeding New Zealand and making sure that land is available to do this.

These are serious and significant challenges that require industry partnership with government and councils, and enhanced expenditure on R&D and robotics.  These are the issues and topics being debated and addressed at the National Horticulture Fieldays. 

These issues and topics will be further considered in greater detail at the Horticulture Conference at the end of July.

Meeting these challenges is not impossible but they will be impossible to conquer if we keep doing what we are doing today, deluding ourselves that 'she'll be right' will see us right into the future.

Mike Chapman is Chief Executive of Horticulture New Zealand.