Government must prepare the ground

6 November 2023

Horticulture has a vital role to play in building, for the benefit of all New Zealanders, an economy which is sustainable both environmentally and economically. To facilitate this, our new government must ‘prepare the ground’ to create and maintain the conditions our industry needs to thrive and to continue to supply nutritious fruit and vegetables to New Zealand and the world.

After the October election, on behalf of growers Horticulture New Zealand presented a briefing document to the new government. It focused on the Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan, a partnership between industry, government, Māori and science, which doubles farmgate value by 2035 in a way that improves prosperity for our people and protects our environment.

HortNZ is recommending that the new government develop its work programme based on that strategy.

Within the action plan there are five immediate priorities under which the government can quickly make a significant difference, we focused on these in our briefing. These priorities are:

  • Water storage
  • Reliable supply of healthy locally grown fruit and vegetables for New Zealanders
  • Streamlined assurance processes
  • Employment flexibility
  • Certainty for Pacific workers and employers.

There is also a big work programme for our industry, in partnership with the government, to increase resilience to climate change and tackle labour shortages and spiralling costs.

Predicted drier-than-normal conditions from the El Nino weather pattern will bring water availability and storage into even sharper focus.

So, we are encouraging the government to move rapidly to remove resource consent obstacles to new water storage, and to support investment in water storage.

As part of planning for resilience and adaptation to climate change, we are advocating that future water needs are modelled by region, crop, and growing systems (including on Māori land and isolated rural communities) and maps for strategic water infrastructure investments are evidence-based.

Many New Zealanders are struggling with the cost of living which is putting pressure on food budgets. With the right policy and regulatory settings, growers can provide a reliable and resilient supply of fresh fruit and vegetables and contribute positively to New Zealand’s food security.

That’s why HortNZ is encouraging the government to move quickly to signal the importance of horticulture in national and regional policies, so that central and regional government agencies are directed to reduce regulatory costs and constraints on growers.

We also want the government to keep pressure on supermarkets and the grocery sector through the Grocery Commissioner who should hold supermarkets to account for their role in food waste and food insecurity.

One quick, easy, and highly effective way to reduce the regulatory costs for growers is for government to recognise our current GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) certification framework as adequate proof that growers are meeting regulatory standards.

It is critical to ensure the standard under the Resource Management Act (RMA) for recognising industry schemes for Freshwater Farm Planning, provides a pathway for comprehensive recognition of the GAP programmes.

We are also urging the government to extend the legal recognition provided in the RMA to other domains, so GAP industry standards can be recognised as meeting regulatory requirements for:

  • Food safety
  • Social practice
  • The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Horticulture employs 40,000+ people but faces a labour shortage. There is much to be done in immigration and vocational training to grow a larger base of people with the skills needed.

The first, most significant step the government can take is to give the industry more flexibility in how it employs and rewards people by removing Fair Pay Agreements and other legislative barriers.

Workers coming to New Zealand through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme are a vital part of our workforce. Without this scheme, we would be unable to harvest many crops. We want to ensure the RSE scheme is sustainable for both the Pacific and the horticulture industry.

To provide certainty, it is essential to rapidly conclude work on policies relating to accommodation standards, recognising industry assurance schemes, and keeping costs of compliance affordable.

 HortNZ is looking forward to working with our new Government to realise, for growers and all New Zealanders, HortNZ’s vision: Oranga kai, oranga tangata, haere ake nei, Healthy food for all, forever.