Positive outlook for horticulture

1 February 2024

It is almost a year now since Cyclone Gabrielle devastated businesses and communities in the Hawke’s Bay, Tairāwhiti Gisborne, Northland, Bay of Plenty, Wairarapa and northern Manawatū.

At HortNZ, our thoughts are with those still working to recover from this extreme weather event. The rebuild and renewal process will take a generation. Growing areas and infrastructure are in a serious state and significant investment is required so these areas can once again thrive.

What will be vital is a collaborative and constructive relationship with the new Government. We were pleased the Government’s 100 Day Plan signalled a real commitment to supporting the recovery. The industry and communities in these regions have displayed remarkable resilience in recovering from the devastating impacts of Gabrielle and other extreme storms, yet additional assistance is required.

Stakeholders across the sectors continue to work together to meet both the immediate necessities and ensure the prolonged recovery of the impacted areas. Given the rising frequency and severity of adverse weather events, taking proactive measures to mitigate and minimise damage is vital.

As the horticulture sector anticipates another dynamic year in 2024, we hold a positive outlook for the future of our industry. This optimism is grounded in recent government announcements, particularly those highlighting resilient infrastructure and favourable employment policies, essential for the sector to achieve our ambitious growth targets.

The creation of a National Infrastructure Agency and the formulation of a new Government Policy Statement on Roads of National Significance are particularly encouraging. These initiatives will play a pivotal role in boosting production and streamlining the supply chain for locally-grown fruit and vegetables.

Currently valued at $6 billion annually, the sector aims to double this figure by 2035. We commend the government's commitment to doubling renewable energy production, recognising its crucial role in supporting our sectors expansion needs.

Aligning the country's infrastructure policies with the specific needs of the horticulture sector is imperative. HortNZ advocates for prioritising highly productive land for primary production and policies facilitating the construction of essential facilities, including packhouses, glasshouses, seasonal worker accommodation, and covered crop protection.

Moreover, policies addressing water storage expansion and streamlined water consent processes can provide growers with the certainty needed for investment and increased production while maintaining environmental sustainability.

The Government has already repealed the Natural and Built Environment Bill and the Spatial Planning Act. HortNZ is focused on ensuring enabling growing fruit and vegetables remains a priority in the proposed resource management and freshwater reforms.

The recent Court of Appeal decision quashing the specified vegetable growing areas in Horowhenua and Pukekohe highlights the risk of truncated consultation. We look forward to working alongside the Government, iwi and community to develop enduring environmental law and policy, that recognises the value of horticulture and provides clear, pragmatic and fair rules to maintain and improve environmental quality.

The Government remains committed to the roll-out of Freshwater Farm Plans. HortNZ will continue to advocate for a clear equivalence process, so industry assurance programmes such as GAP can support growers to demonstrate they are meeting regulatory and market requirements in an efficient and integrated way.

The recent changes to employment policies by the Coalition Government are also a positive development, bringing relief to the horticulture industry. The decision to halt the Income Insurance Scheme, repeal the Fair Pay Agreement legislation, and restore 90-day trial periods is a step in the right direction, alleviating pressures faced by horticulture businesses.

Looking forward, there is an overdue need for sustainable policies surrounding the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and immigration processes, ensuring the sector remains an attractive destination for workers contributing to the New Zealand horticulture industry.

The sector's Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan will serve as a blueprint to attract, retain, and grow a diverse workforce, ensuring a responsible and ethical industry for future generations.