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The new normal is NOW

12 October 2021

Winter pruning at Clyde Orchards. Featured in The Orchardist, October 2021. Photo by Clare Toia-Bailey

In my last column, I talked about a new normal and how HortNZ, product groups, district associations and the Government needed to work together on that, much like we have come together over labour and during the lockdowns. 

Over the past week, several growers have expressed their frustration to me about how Government policy around Covid feels too ad hoc, which is eroding confidence in this country’s leadership.  For example, it’s now OK in Auckland to expand your social bubble and go on a picnic but is it OK to expand work bubbles outside in the field?  Similarly, employers across the horticulture industry are encouraging as many employees as possible to get vaccinated, with some reporting rates as high as 95%.  But what does that mean in the workplace? 

Don’t get me wrong.  Our industry is not asking for any special treatment.  What we are asking for, along with other industries and individual New Zealanders, is a clearer strategy and roadmap from the Government, so we can chart the new normal and ensure our businesses are viable and start to thrive again. 

Horticulture is viewed as pivotal to New Zealand’s economic performance, along with the other parts of the food and fibre sector.  However, without clear direction and policy support, horticulture and the rest of the sector will not excel again, and meet their full economic potential. 

Horticulture has worked in partnership with the Government on labour and we are seeing that pay off.  Yes, some would say it has taken too long but no one can deny that horticulture hasn’t got a good hearing, and new policies around labour and the border are supportive and in place. 

What we need urgently is for the Government to step into the Covid space and take a whole of Government approach as we all come to terms with living with Covid.  Focusing solely on health was appropriate at the start of this pandemic.  But now is the time to broaden the focus to ensure our economy can function in the new Covid environment. 

Looking to the past will not cut it, as I said last week.  Our industry is known for its innovation – just take a look at the sophistication of a modern packhouse.  This Government has kept us all safe and we should applaud it for that.  However, it is high time that this Government’s focus was broadened to include the economy and New Zealand’s future place in the world. 

Demand for New Zealand’s fruit and vegetables has never been higher but on the supply side, things have never been more challenging: the labour shortage, problems with freight, the speed of environmental reform as well as increasing cost across the board.  Growers are faced with making decisions today that will affect the industry’s future.  Should I plant a new orchard knowing that I will not start to see any returns for several years?  Or should I just wait and see, given how uncertain the future is? 

Businesses across New Zealand are asking themselves similar questions.  The Government needs to factor that into the direction it needs to set around living with Covid.  And it needs to do that right now, before it is too late for key parts of our economy. 

Industry across New Zealand is ready to engage and I know parts of the Government are too.  Let’s come together to chart the new normal and restore confidence to our business sector, and at the same time, all New Zealanders.

Ngā mihi nui

Nadine Tunley
HortNZ Chief Executive