Crop protection products vital to our sector

10 July 2024

When I am out and about talking with growers, one of the key issues raised is access to the right crop protection products to help them grow fruit and vegetables free of pests and diseases.

The costly and lengthy regulatory approval process to get new products registered for use in horticulture has been a huge drag on our ambitions to double the farmgate value of our industry by 2035.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is currently grappling with a significant backlog of applications stuck in the regulatory process for new products designed to control pests and diseases in the most sustainable ways.

A recent Sapere review estimated that if the EPA halted all other assessment activity and stopped taking applications, it would still take them 2-4 years to clear their current backlog.

HortNZ and our partners across the supply chain, such as Animal Plant and Health New Zealand, have been advocating for changes to the process for some time.

So, it was great to see the Government announce during Fieldays at Mystery Creek that the Ministry for Regulation will review the complex approval processes for new agricultural and horticultural products under the EPA and New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS).

So why is this important to growers?

HortNZ is concerned that the approaches the EPA and NZFS are taking to approve crop protection products is leaving the horticulture sector vulnerable with few options to manage pests, diseases and weeds in an increasingly challenging environment.

We know growers are working hard to use more environmentally friendly approaches, including integrated pest management (IPM). The A Lighter Touch (ALT) programme, supported by HortNZ, is funding extensive demonstrations with the aim of transitioning from agrichemical pest management to agroecological crop protection.

Ironically, the complex regulatory approval processes and EPA’s backlog of applications are preventing growers from accessing products that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable with lesser environmental impacts.

Crop protection products are vital to horticulture production especially in the more volatile climate environment we now live in.

Without crop protection products, horticulture would lose 75 per cent of the value of its crops. Vegetable growers would incur losses of about 88 per cent of the value of vegetable crops - 80 per cent of vegetables in New Zealand are grown for domestic supply. New Zealanders food security, as well as our economy, is dependent on the crop protection product regulatory system working well.

The HortNZ team is looking forward to providing our advice and expertise to the review led by the Ministry for Regulation.

The outcome we are seeking is ensuring regulatory interpretations of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act are not creating unnecessary or unsubstantiated barriers to horticulture’s success.

These Acts need to enable growers access to new tools so they can produce healthy fruit and vegetables for New Zealanders and achieve the Government’s vision of doubling exports.

Mystery Creek Fieldays was my last as HortNZ chief executive and it was great to catch up with growers, sector partners and politicians. There are a number of challenges facing the agriculture sector as a whole, we can only hope this government will ensure changes being made are enduring beyond election cycles, so we all have confidence to invest in rebuilding not only our businesses but the NZ economy.

According to the latest Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries (SOPI) report released at Fieldays there are certainly good prospects for our sector. It reflects that horticulture will remain a major contributor to the New Zealand economy, so we just need Minister’s and government to keep us front of mind and not a poor cousin to the dairy and meat sectors.

SOPI reports that horticulture export revenue is expected to increase 1 percent to $7.1 billion in the year to 30 June 2024. This has been helped by favourable climatic conditions for most crops recovering from the impacts of the previous wet summers and cyclone damage. Kiwifruit, apples, cherries, and vegetables all saw increases in production.

However, this was countered by weak demand for wine due to high global inventories and a poor season for avocados.

A big thank you to those businesses who supplied fresh produce for our stand at Fieldays – it is always extremely popular, and it provides an opportunity for us to educate our visitors on our amazing products; there were many questions about the fruit and vegetable products we had on our stand.

Next stop is the RSE and Horticulture Conferences at Mercury Baypark, Mt Maunganui on 28-30 August.

Two conferences will merge to bring three days of industry presentations, speakers and content. 

To provide the food you need from your own hands is the theme for this year's RSE Conference. The theme of the Horticulture Conference is Growing together today, for tomorrow.

These are always popular conferences; registrations are open now for both. I look forward to seeing growers there.