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The future is hard to predict

24 August 2021

Untamed Earth co-founder Oliver Platt with this season’s cauliflower. Source: Stuff.

Kia ora koutou

In my update last Tuesday, on the eve of going into Level 4 lockdown, I encouraged people to think about a Plan B, should our industry face Covid-related challenges again.  I had no idea it would happen quite that quickly.   

When the lockdown announcement was made, I was in Tauranga attending kiwifruit industry AGMs and related events, but getting back to Wellington quickly became a priority.  Since then, it has been a rollercoaster for everyone.  I know that our vegetable growers are once again in the thick of it, with stressed staff, more restrictive operating environments and now a positive Covid case in Pukekohe High School.

Our avocado sector is just beginning one of its busiest times and the Covid restrictions will make harvesting and packing a major challenge.  In all, the past week has been trying for everyone in New Zealand. 

HortNZ, product groups, district associations have come together on a daily basis to discuss issues and share insights, which have then been communicated out to growers via the HortNZ newsletter and other organisations’ communications channels. 

This is the model that served our sector well last time and went on to establish better links with Government agencies, in particular, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).  The Government has some difficult decisions to make over the next few days, including potential borders and the criteria for essential workers. 

I know many of you will be feeling very uncertain at the moment.  Some of you will be questioning your ability to continue operating, particularly if you have planting and pruning decisions to make right now or soon.  Running a sustainable horticulture business requires commitment, a long-term perspective, and fundamentals like the weather, availability of labour, and central and local Government policy settings to be right for growing. 

Covid is considerably inflating these challenges.  It is changing fundamentally how we have to operate. So again, I appeal to you all to think about what operating may look like if staff and service providers cannot move as freely as normal, and if you need to increase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards or social distancing requirements. 

Looking further ahead

New Zealanders, the Pacific and the rest of the world need fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables, even more when their health is at risk.  That is the message we are constantly reminding the Government of, including during our daily meetings about the lockdown. 

I would like to think that all of our growers will find a way through by finding ways to adapt.  That Government support – in the widest sense of the word – will be available, short and more long term, to ensure our sector can meet the Government’s economic and environmental objectives, in the world that Covid seems to have changed forever. 

But right now, it is important that we all support each other to get through this latest Covid challenge.  Please stay connected, think about whether you can work together in your community and reach out to colleagues, family and friends, as well as your product groups, district associations and HortNZ.  Resources such as Farmstrong may also be useful. 

To stay up to date and find the latest facts, please go to the HortNZ website, which also provides links to Government websites with information about support as well as how to stay safe and healthy. 

By working together as a united sector and communicating well, I am confident we can find ways to meet our challenges. 

Ngā mihi nui

Nadine Tunley

HortNZ Chief Executive