From the Fieldays

21 June 2023

More than 100,000 people – including politicians and Government officials from Wellington – attended the Fieldays at Mystery Creek last week.

The Fieldays are a chance for the food and fibre sector to reflect, hear from different speakers, experience new technology, as well as socialise. It being an election year, these Fieldays were also an opportunity for politicians to have contact with the food and fibre sector’s grassroots.  

KPMG used the Fieldays to release its annual, Agribusiness Agenda, which is titled Energising a World of Anxiety this year.

The detailed report concludes that New Zealand’s food and fibre sector is at a crossroad, and ‘uncertainty around the pathways for change is a significant factor in anxiety’.

This statement says it all for me. The horticulture industry knows it must change the way it grows because of climate change, labour shortages, and changes in consumer preferences. etc. The industry also knows it has the solutions to some of New Zealand’s challenges, especially around reducing emissions and ‘feeding our five million first’ – another of the points the KPMG report makes.

However, which way is the best way to go? Particularly when some growers – like those affected by Cyclone Gabrielle in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti Gisborne – need to know the best way to go, right now.

I have been associated with the food and fibre sector for more than 30 years. Over that time, we’ve had our uncertainties, but today’s challenges are the most numerous and complex we’ve faced, which is why the sector is so anxious. 

The solution

So, what’s the solution? Coming together to develop the solutions must be the answer. The challenge with this approach is to keep everyone in the tent while the different options are examined, as well as to ensure the process is as quick as possible, to give people the hope they need at this critical time. 

In terms of the tent, there’s a large number of stakeholders involved: central and local Government, iwi, commercial players, as well as service providers like banks and insurance companies. And all these stakeholders must come together together – and quickly – for the common good, and plan for a future that involves a greater number of extreme weather events.

Because of the size of the challenge, central Government needs to take the lead. For a start, they must ensure that reform of the Resource Management Act supports communities to do what they must do to adapt – and quickly. Government also has access to a wealth of climate change impact modelling, which needs to be made freely available to support communities’ decision making. 

Then there’s the funding of all this change. Taxpayer money needs to be applied wisely over a timeframe far longer than current Government Budget setting processes allow. Plus, public/private funding arrangements need to be encouraged, and managed better than they have been in the past. 

These are the challenges with coming together to plan and deliver the fundamental change that’s needed. But coming together is the best way forward, as it will get us solutions that stick, empower, and restore hope.