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Horticulture industry can help New Zealand reduce emissions and grow the economy

1 April 2021

The horticulture industry is well placed to help New Zealand reduce its emissions while also enabling the economy to grow, Horticulture New Zealand says. 

‘Our fruit and vegetable growing industry is already environmentally responsible as well as being one of the most efficient in the world,’ says HortNZ President, Barry O’Neil. 

‘In our submission to the Climate Change Commission, we pointed out that horticulture is now producing more food from less land, using fewer inputs like fertiliser and water. 

‘Covid has seen demand for healthy food increase, across the world.  This increase puts horticulture in a win/win situation.  Land-use change to horticulture will reduce emissions from the agriculture sector, while the extra production will find ready markets, overseas and locally.’ 

Barry says the Commission’s proposed path to 2035 includes transforming dairy land into horticulture, at a rate of 2,000 hectares a year from 2025. 

‘We consider this is largely on a par with our industry’s current growth.  However, we believe that horticulture could play a more significant role in New Zealand’s transition to a low emissions economy.  What is needed is investment in the right areas, as well as the right policy and regulatory environment. 

‘In terms of policy and regulation, settings in the areas of labour, the environment – access to land and water, and land use change – and investment, for example in water storage, need to all be aligned.

‘Horticulture also needs investment in research and development to speed up progress in automation, next generation orchard design, and new varieties and products.’ 

Barry says if New Zealand can make progress in these areas, horticulture will be in an enviable position: growing more healthy food  to feed the world’s discerning consumers and earning more valuable export revenue, while supporting New Zealand’s climate change adaption. 

In terms of energy, HortNZ is seeking an energy transition strategy. 

’Changing from gas heating covered crops to renewables can’t happen overnight.  It will require significant capital investment, some of which should be coming from the money generated from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) scheme,’ says Barry. 

‘Growers also need technology solutions that are practical and affordable, before they can move away from fossil fuels for tractors and trucking.  These alternatives will come but it will take time, and we can’t have growers forced out of business due to high ETS costs if there aren’t viable affordable alternatives available.’ 

Barry says HortNZ is seeking recognition of fruit and vegetables’ importance in maintaining New Zealand’s food supply and food policy that links environmental with health outcomes. 

‘Covid has got the world thinking about health.  People are hungry for information about nutrition as well as the environmental impact of producing the food they eat. 

‘People are starting to ask about the risks of carbon leakage. 

‘In the New Zealand context, carbon leakage would be when we end up importing cheaper produce that’s produced in situations worse for the environment, compared to what New Zealand growers are being required to do.  This would be the opposite of what the world needs to do to meet climate change goals.’    

To read HortNZ’s submission, click here