Aligning with growers

30 November 2021

L to R: HortNZ chief executive, Nadine Tunley; HortNZ environment manager, Michelle Sands; and Summerfruit NZ chief executive, Kate Hellstrom.

I was part of a HortNZ, Summerfruit NZ and Sustainable Winegrowing NZ visit to Central Otago last week, which included three grower presentations focused on Freshwater Farm Plans, He Waka Eke Noa and National Policy Statement on Highly Productive Land.  

It is in no way an understatement to say it is tough out there for growers.  Central Otago cherry growers suffered from a substantial adverse rain event last season, which meant the success of their seasonal worker attraction campaigns was wasted. 

So, it is good to see the region getting behind attraction campaigns again this year.  However, the greater concern is about potential Covid potential impacts, particularly with a short sharp harvest window with a highly perishable product. The Auckland border opening from mid-December is right at the critical pick, pack ship period for this region. 

The horticulture collective, representing most product groups, has gone to the Government with how we would like to operate, as an ‘essential industry’, under a nationwide Covid management strategy. 

We are hopeful that our collective approach – telling the Government how we would like to see it – gets us the needed direction that growers currently lack, especially given we are going into the busiest time of the year – harvest. 

We firmly believe that our horticulture sector can continue to grow the food that New Zealand and the rest of the world needs, while safeguarding the health of growers, workers and the New Zealand public, just as we have done since the first lockdown in March 2020. 

I will keep you posted on our discussions with the Government.  But in the interim, the best course of action is to operate as if Covid is in your community, and take all health and safety precautions, as per Ministry of Health guidelines.


Doing all you can to stay positive

Many of our growers are reporting that they are feeling under pressure and are worried about the coming season.  Staying connected and talking things through – with family, fellow growers or professionals – is a good thing to do, in these circumstances. 

In terms of professional help, there are several well-proven options out there.  The Rural Support Network and FarmStrong are two resources specifically developed for the rural community.  There is also Mentemia, which is more general. 


Changes at HortNZ

As some of you already know from previous grower meetings, virtual and in person, I have been working through a Transformation Project at HortNZ for the past few months. Last Thursday, I presented to HortNZ staff the outcome of this work, which virtually everyone has been involved in along the way.

The project has been about finding a more sustainable work balance for HortNZ staff while ensuring HortNZ is best placed to support growers and invest grower levies in critical focus areas.   

The transformation has identified the need to increase and align capability better to be able to adequately support growers through the myriad of central and local government reform. It has also reconfirmed that the crucial focus areas for growers are labour, climate change, emissions, freshwater, land use, biosecurity, and food safety and compliance; with internal focus areas being health and safety, culture, wellbeing and development.  

HortNZ is very conscious that it is a grower funded organisation. The transformation has also been about ensuring we are set up to deliver on that investment, through what we focus on and how efficient and effective we are in doing that. 

At the same time, several product groups have been discussing how they could better collaborate in the future, again achieving the maximum benefit of growers, while making workloads manageable for their staff. 

In summary, HortNZ looks forward to continuing to deliver.  We know first-hand that the sector is under pressure.  We want to do everything we can through our advocacy to help so the sector gets through the next few months and can start focusing on the medium to long term, again.