Engaging with growers

7 March 2024

The Horticulture New Zealand team has been on the road over the last few weeks meeting growers as part of a national roadshow.

Engaging with growers is always a real highlight of my job. As the leader of an organisation dedicated to advocating for and representing the interests of over 4200 commercial fruit and vegetable growers, I see examples every day of the hard work shown by the thousands of people working in the horticulture sector.

Every grower I encounter demonstrates a profound commitment to stewardship of the land and doing the best under what is often really trying circumstances.

We all know New Zealand is fortunate to possess ideal growing conditions and fertile soil, but it takes real perseverance and resilience for growers to cultivate nutritious and sustainable food for our nation and the world.

Among the regions we have visited so far has been Northland, which has a significant horticulture presence. Horticulture and fruit growing accounted for 12.5 precent of the overall value of Northland’s exports in 2022. The HortNZ team up at Northland Field Days said it was great to see growers out in force – hopefully some of you were able to drop by our stand.

Northland was just one of the areas hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle, which also wreaked a path of devastation in Hawke’s Bay, Tairāwhiti Gisborne, Bay of Plenty, Wairarapa and northern Manawatū.

For some growers, the rebuild and renewal process will take many years and the investment required to enable these regions to once again thrive will be significant.

Scientists tell us that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of these adverse weather events so we need to take steps to mitigate or reduce the damage.

This means taking a whole of catchment approach to flood protection and water use. It’s also critical highly productive land is protected for primary production and that growing fruit and vegetables is the first priority for land-use in these valuable areas.

This approach would also see more bush on hill country, fewer houses in flood prone valleys, and more water storage.

New Zealand needs to ensure a resilient supply of fruit and vegetables through permissive planning that allows geographic variation in growing areas.

We also require policy and planning support for climate adaptative growing, including covered cropping.

The nation needs to maintain effective flood protection systems in food producing areas. Flood-protection infrastructure must be continuously strengthened, and silt and shingle debris removed from flood channels.

During the various meetings with growers, we have been sharing HortNZ’s priorities for the next few years, hearing their views and ideas and providing an update on our various programmes such as A Lighter Touch, Growing Change and the horticulture sector Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan.

We along with some product groups have also been providing information on our upcoming levy referendum where growers will get the chance to have their say on the future of HortNZ. If you haven’t been able to attend a grower meeting, we would still like your feedback. Growers can do this by submitting written comments on our Growing Together feedback form which you can find on our website www.hortnz.co.nz, by calling us on 0508 467 869 or emailing us as at info@hortnz.co.nz.

In March 2025, HortNZ's Commodity Levy Order, which funds the work we do, will expire. We will be seeking grower support for the continued funding of the organisation.

HortNZ supports growers to make more informed decisions, providing them with tools and services to enhance their productivity and profitability.

We advocate on grower’s behalf to try and achieve sound and sensible policy settings including around climate change and freshwater so growers can provide a reliable and resilient supply of fresh vegetables and fruit for all New Zealanders.

I believe the horticulture sector is certainly stronger by working together. Collective investment by growers provides the size and scale needed to achieve things that no individual grower can achieve alone.

HortNZ is proud of our achievements for growers over the past six years – notably the strong advocacy during the various COVID-19 lockdowns that enabled growers to continue to harvest crops and supply domestic and export markets and quarantine-free travel for RSE workers, leading the cyclone recovery and securing policy gains for the sector.

The next six years will be an important period for New Zealand’s growers and the country as a whole.

If growers vote to continue funding HortNZ, we will be pushing the case with government in key areas including water storage and allocation, ensuring the reliable supply of nutritious locally grown fresh vegetables and fruit, streamlining assurance processes, employment flexibility, removing current legislative barriers to businesses and providing certainty for Pacific workers and employers.

The sector is also poised to take advantage of some encouraging tailwinds in its favour.

In December, the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries report revealed a strong future for New Zealand horticulture with forecast export revenue rising to $8.19 billion by 2025.

The report showed the horticulture industry overtaking forestry to be the third largest earner of export revenue in the food and fibre sector by 2025.

Increased export prices are forecast over the coming years, supported by strong global demand and constrained global supply. Recovering crop yields in 2024 are expected to offset lower volumes for some crops, largely resulting from the tail end of weather-affected 2023 harvests.

In a positive development, the sector is also looking forward to New Zealand ratifying the free trade agreement with the European Union, particularly good news for our onion and kiwifruit sectors.

We want New Zealand to prosper by exporting our world-leading fruit and vegetables to millions of customers all over the world.

We are confident we can double farmgate revenue by 2035 in line with the Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan.

But we can’t do it alone.

We need the government to recognise and understand the importance of horticulture and create and maintain the conditions for our industry to thrive, and in doing so, lift the overall health, wellbeing and economy of New Zealand.