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2020: A pivotal year for the world

17 December 2020

2020 will go down in history as being a pivotal year in the world’s trajectory and evolution.  This year, assumptions and norms have been tested, and we’ve found that if need be, we can go without usual freedoms if there’s a greater good at stake. 

Throughout lockdown, growers and our industry showed resilience. By uniting, we have got the support we needed from the Government to ensure we could operate as an essential industry, feed New Zealand and the rest of the world and earn valuable export dollars. 

Which is not to say it was easy for growers – then or now – due to extremely high levels of uncertainty, and the time taken for key decisions to be made.  None of these decisions has been easy, but when made, they do recognise that the Government has to enable and support industry so that New Zealand can recover from Covid. 

HortNZ has worked closely with product groups and the Government since the start of Covid.  In March, we set up meetings each day of the week, including weekends, that have now morphed into a weekly meeting between product groups and the Government.  Many issues have been quickly resolved in these meetings and, for more complicated matters, common understanding has been reached.

Wellington is a world away from the orchard, paddock and packhouse, but what happens in Wellington has a tremendous impact on growers.  Sometimes we are able to advocate successfully for what growers need, and at other times, we have to accept a compromise or accept what the Government has decided. 

The decision to let in 2000 RSE workers from the Pacific was a Government decision, in part answering our collective requests for assistance with seasonal labour.  The decision to allow independent fruit and vegetable retailers to remain open if the country goes back into Alert Level 3 answers another issue that we raised with Government.  With both these decisions, we are continuing to seek enhancements.

Our industry’s diversity is a strength, but a weakness when it comes to interaction with the Government.  Our challenge is to act as one while at the same time, highlighting the differences between fruit and vegetable growing, large and small growers, and growing in the Far North and say Canterbury in a way that does not dilute our case or argument. 

Although it has been a very tough year, particularly for growers supplying produce to the New Zealand market, exports are forecast by the Ministry for Primary Industries to rise by 9.1% for the year ending June 2021.  This growth has been led by kiwifruit with a 10% increase in revenue.  However, closure of hospitality businesses, farmers markets and independent fruit and vegetable stores during lockdown and a lack of labour and air freight have had a major and detrimental effect on vegetable sales and spring crops.

While I acknowledge that growing never stops, I do hope that everyone in our and all industries gets some form of break over the coming weeks, and gets time to spend with family, friends and do something fun.  Particularly as next year, I am sure the challenges won’t stop, especially around labour, the weather, air and sea freight, compliance and regulation. 

It has been an honour to lead Horticulture New Zealand in the past year, working in partnership with product groups and growers.  And while I am standing down next year, I will not stop striving to get the best possible result for growers and New Zealand horticulture. 

Mike Chapman
Chief Executive