Coronavirus: Lack of market access still a concern for growers in level 3

 By Tracy Neal of RNZ.

The country's fruit and vegetable growers say moving to level 3 on the Covid-19 scale will ease pressure on some in the sector, but many consumers still won't be able to get their greens.

From later next week businesses and industries not considered essential, but able to demonstrate they can operate safely, could be back up and running if the government announces on Monday a move to level 3.

Head of Horticulture New Zealand, Mike Chapman, said that was good news for orchard development programmes as construction, trades and manufacturing look set to be revived.

But Chapman said concern remained for vegetable growers, who still would not have access to a large and important market.

"Our real concern remains around vegetables and vegetable supply. With restaurants and fast-food outlets closed we haven't been able to sell vegetables through these outlets which has meant a lot of growers have nowhere to sell their produce."

Chapman said if there was nowhere to sell, growers were not planting and down the track, that would mean less vegetable available.

"Going to level 3, with Click and Collect (online shopping) and drive-through perhaps opening up again will help, but what we really need to happen is for the independent fruit and vegetable retailers to open, and for those traditional outlets where a lot of people shop to open."

Chapman said 60 percent of produce consumed in Auckland was sold outside supermarkets.

"We're seeing a lot of people who aren't getting fruit and vegetables at the moment, because their traditional outlet is closed."

Chapman said a lack of consistency remained on rules that applied to green grocers, with some now re-opened, while others still could not.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) had to be satisfied that a store selling produce met the definitions of a supermarket before it could re-open.

"Some are opening and running the risk of being closed. We just need a consistent ruling," Chapman said.

"They can do safe sales, just like dairies and petrol stations. If we can get more of them open it has the double benefit of making sure New Zealanders are getting access to healthy food, while giving certainty to growers to plant."

Chapman said Horticulture New Zealand estimated that nationwide, between 20 and 30 percent of vegetables in particular were sold through outlets other than supermarkets.

"Those growers supplying that portion of the market - one third, aren't growing because they can't sell.

"The more certainty we can give growers the more certainty we have about food security in the future."

Chapman said the government was doing the right thing with its approach, but it was important to be able to keep the crop cycle running, from planting to growing to harvest.