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Growing out of adversity

4 November 2021

This column was first published in the November 2021 issues of The Orchardist and NZGrower.

Today's talented and committed young growers are the leaders of tomorrow.

Like a lot of people, I am finding it hard to believe it is November already. Since August, New Zealand has been grappling with lockdowns and alert levels, as the government has moved from an elimination strategy to a management one because of the highly infectious nature of the Delta Covid-19 variant. 

We can once again be proud of our industry. As ‘essential’ workers, we continued to grow fruit and vegetables during the lockdowns while safeguarding the health of every employee and member of the public. Which is not to say this has been easy. Announcements by the government have often been confusing, and it has taken days to gain necessary clarity. This is disappointing, when all the growers and other industry participants want to do is the right thing, including making it easy for as many people in the workforce to get vaccinated. 

Vegetable growers in Pukekohe have been the most affected. However, they have been well represented by the Pukekoke Vegetable Growers Association, in particular by Kylie Faulkner as President. Kylie has worked with Horticulture New Zealand, Vegetables NZ and Onions NZ. In turn, we have all worked with the Ministry for Primary Industries to try and make sure the importance of a reliable supply of fresh produce is reflected in government decision making. 

That advocacy is ongoing and given the government’s change in Covid strategy, has been stepped up. Like most of New Zealand’s industry and business, we have been frustrated by the government’s slowness to provide clarity and guidance around vaccination and testing in the workplace, but more significantly, how the government intends to manage community outbreaks of Covid-19 in the future. Because businesses will not survive going from lockdown to lockdown, even with government support. 

What businesses need now is clarity so that they have confidence to make decisions that will affect the New Zealand economy for the next 10 years. While current economic indicators are positive, we only need to look overseas at Britain to see what might happen if we do not make moves now to manage what we can control, with decisive leadership and planning. 


Staying the distance

Late last month, we held the Young Grower of the Year final in Lower Hutt. The event was affected by Covid – the Pukekohe finalist could not attend in person. However, we decided it was important for this celebration of up-and-coming Young Growers to go ahead, given last year’s event was cancelled due to Covid. 

This year’s regional finals were oversubscribed, which illustrates our sector’s underlying optimism and the fortitude within our industry.

While there will be many challenges moving forward, our industry remains strong and determined to succeed.

We have a track record of innovation and adapting to change to meet new demands and take advantage of new opportunities. 

Demand for fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables has never been higher.

This is a great opportunity for our industry as everybody has to eat, and I think it is that basic need that will compel the world to find solutions to issues around supply chain challenges. 

As vaccination rates meet targets, people can travel overseas again, and we understand and accept what we need to do to live with the impact of Covid-19, from a personal as well as a business point of view. 

Today’s talented and committed young growers are the leaders of tomorrow. Despite the challenges ahead, I am confident the industry will return to fine health, offering rewarding career prospects to everyone who wants to be involved in providing New Zealand and the world with great tasting, fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables.