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Some light at the end of the tunnel

21 September 2021

With the news that Auckland moves to Alert Level 3 tonight at 11.59pm, while the rest of the country stays at Alert Level 2, there is some welcome light at the end of what has seemed a long tunnel. 

Growers in the Auckland region, particularly those in Pukekohe, have been the most affected by Alert Level 4 and the imposition of borders, to say nothing of the loss of Auckland’s café and restaurant markets. 

The Pukekohe Vegetable Growers’ Association, in particular, President Kylie Faulkner, has worked tirelessly with HortNZ and vegetable product groups, to try and ensure minimal disruption to vegetable production.  This is at a time when demand has been high and it being winter, growing and harvesting conditions have not been optimal, particularly for the most prized vegetable in lockdown, broccoli.

Getting enough workers was always going to be an issue, no matter what the circumstance.  Indeed, this led to silverbeet being left in the field so the available workers could harvest broccoli, which is frustrating for any grower. 

The situation was stressful for growers as well as their workers, some of who felt they were putting themselves and their families at risk by coming to work, despite all the precautions. 

The difference in Alert Levels between Auckland and the rest of the country will mean that the northern and southern borders of Auckland will continue to operate, albeit with a slightly adjusted southern border.  Workers crossing these borders will still require an exemption from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) as before.  They will also need to carry evidence of having had a Covid test within the last seven days, as before. 

While horticulture was granted essential business status, I know at times this would have equally felt like a burden.  It has been heartening to see how growers across the country have responded, doing everything required of them and more to protect the health and safety of their workers and at the same time, all New Zealanders.  I would like to thank all of you for that, and accepting the burden that came with continuing to supply urban New Zealand with fresh and healthy, vegetables and fruit. 

Looking ahead, I’d encourage everyone in our industry to reflect on the past few weeks for things that could be and were implemented, should the industry be in a similar situation in the future.  I will be reminding the Government about the importance of clarity and adequate lead times, so our industry can do the right thing – keep growing while keeping people safe. 

Labour, labour and labour

I know the topic of labour annoys some of our growers because it does not have the same impact on all growers.  However, it is a very real issue across much of New Zealand, be it the primary industries, retail, hospitality or professional services.  The effects are far and wide so at a point in time, this will affect all of us one way or another.

With Spring definitely in the air, growers are gearing up for the season ahead.  HortNZ and the industry collective continues to work with the Government on ensuring quarantine-free travel from Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga gets underway in October as planned.  It’s our objective to ensure that all the 14,400 RSE workers allowed in under the current Government-imposed cap make it to our businesses this season. 

At the same time, we are working with the product groups on further, new and innovative ways to attract seasonal workers to our industry, in the spirit of doing everything we can to ensure the coming season’s fruit and vegetables get picked, packed and shipped.  In terms of shipping, it is also a challenge that we are working on with the Government and other industries in the same ‘boat’.  I hope that by working together, we will have some success but there are some fundamental challenges such as cost and availability that will continue to make logistics difficult this coming season. 

Young Grower of the Year final

We have made the decision to hold the Young Grower of the Year final a month later, on Wednesday 20 October and Thursday 21 October, at the Lower Hutt Events Centre. 

I sincerely hope our optimism will be rewarded, particularly as we could not hold the event last year due to Covid. 

For me, the Young Grower of the Year is one of the most public ways of promoting a career in horticulture, across New Zealand’s main growing areas, culminating in a national final, this year close to Wellington to attract as many Government decision makers as possible. 

Please come along and support the regional finalists if you can.  Dinner tickets (Thursday 21 October starting at 5pm) can be bought here: www.eventspronto.co.nz/yg21

Ngā mihi nui

Nadine Tunley
HortNZ Chief Executive