Horticulture sector looks to the future at annual conference

New Zealand's booming horticulture sector and how it embraces future technology and trends has been centre-stage at the industry's annual conference.

More than 600 delegates attended this year's New Zealand conference at Mystery Creek, near Hamilton.

HortNZ chief executive, Mike Chapman said the theme 'Our Food Future' reflected the increasing advances in food production and global trends.

"The whole theme was about technologies for the future, how we can adopt them and how we can use them for our businesses as we meet all the challenges that are coming from climate change, meeting environmental standards, labour supply shortages and just being able to produce a fantastic product going forward," he said.

He hoped the conference would empower growers.

Mike Chapman changing consumer attitudes and different growing conditions due to climate change were among challenges facing growers.
Mike Chapman changing consumer attitudes and different growing conditions due to climate change were among challenges facing growers. Photo credit: Newshub

"We are hoping to build on this in future years and keep the theme going," said Chapman.

The Agriculture Minister, Damien O'Connor attended the conference and said the big turnout from growers and industry groups was an indication of how well the sector was performing.

"It's not all perfect, but there is really good growth across most of the sectors," he said.

He said there were challenges including labour shortages and environmental issues. 

"These are challenges which have been around for a while, but we've been upfront about some of the bottom lines for sustainability," said O'Connor.

He said a possible solution to the issue of nutrient leaching was around embracing precision agriculture and precision application of fertiliser.

"I think we have to work alongside the industry to sort these things out."

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said one of the biggest issues for the horticulture sector was biosecurity.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said one of the biggest issues for the horticulture sector was biosecurity. Photo credit: Newshub

Food innovation was a key topic across the conference.

Dr Alaisdair Baxter has in-depth knowledge of in his role as Business Development Minister at the FoodBowl.

The initiative is a Government-funded supported pilot plant facility, which is part of the New Zealand Innovation Network

He said the production of plant-based protein is an area we should take particular note of.

"It's very much a hot topic at the moment globally because the technology has been developed to change plant proteins into something resembling meat using a machine called an extruder," he said. 

"That technology has been around for maybe 30 or 40 years, now it's improved and is much more like meat and people have seized the opportunity to make a product which is very very close to meat, in terms of texture, appearance and flavour," said Dr Baxter.

Delegate listen to Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.
Delegate listen to Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Photo credit: Newshub

As well as the growth of plant-based products, delegates also heard about the continued demand for sustainable, healthy food, and the growth in the health and wellness market.

Future trends included 3d printed food, vertical farming - and the conference looked at how New Zealand might take advantage of climate change by growing more tropical fruits.

But while the sector is booming at the moment, but there are still challenges, including labour shortages and urban sprawl.

Allen and Joanna Lim own Jade Gardens, a vegetable operation between Lincoln and Rolleston in Canterbury.

Joanna Lim said the issue of freshwater was a concern.

"There's a lot of concern about how farmers use freshwater and how it contributes to nutrient leaching," she said.

"There's just going to be an increasing challenge to use that resource in a way that is environmentally beneficial but also economic, not just for farmers but for the flow-on costs for consumers who need to be able to afford the food that's produced," said Lim.

A talking point at the conference was four huge chandeliers made entirely from fruit and vegetables.

The produce was to be donated to local food charities after the conference.

Newshub.

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