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The new normal

5 October 2021

Arriving workers must have had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine before travelling. Source: Brya Ingram/Stuff

This was the week when we hoped Auckland would drop to Alert Level 2 and perhaps the rest of the country, to Alert Level 1, as signalled by the Government two weeks ago.  However, due to people in the community testing positive for Covid in the Waikato and Palmerston North, we find ourselves more or less where we were: borders still in place around Auckland, Auckland and parts of the Waikato in Alert Level 3, and the rest of the country, in Alert Level 2, which I have heard it said is starting to feel like the new normal. 

Whether or not you believe the Government has done a good job, the strategy so far has bought the country time to, along with the rest of the world, understand the virus and its impact better.  But now it’s time to modify the approach, and move to living with Covid in our country. 

Australia has signalled it’s opening for business again next February, as long as you are fully vaccinated and are prepared to self-isolate for seven days.  Perhaps Australia can take this quite open approach because its health system has more capacity than New Zealand’s? 

I will leave that debate to the experts and other commentators but the point I am trying to make is that New Zealand’s solution to success in a Covid world has to be tailored to our unique characteristics.  We can look to other countries for ideas and possible approaches, but the solution we choose must be unique and tailored to our needs and constraints. 

In terms of the horticulture industry, we have shown once again that as an essential industry, we can be trusted to get on with the job, while protecting everybody’s health and safety.  Not that this has been easy.  It has added stress and complexity to an already stretched and concerned industry. 

However, our industry is taken to account in the Government’s decision making.  For example, quarantine free travel for RSE workers from key Pacific nations got underway this week, with the first flight landing in the early hours of Monday morning.  While it is unlikely that the workers we get from the Pacific this season will be enough, we are in a better position that most other industries and by working together, we can try and make a go of this season, like you did last year. 

 

The new normal, Covid world

While the focus is on the coming season, as an industry, just like New Zealand Inc, we must also be mindful of the future in the new normal, Covid world.  A world where there will be more uncertainty as well as competition for resources like labour and shipping.  Greater uncertainty and competition will require the different parts of our industry to plan ahead, cooperate and share, particularly in key areas such as labour and shipping. 

At the same time, greater investment and cooperation around research and the development of new growing, harvesting and distribution techniques will be necessary if the New Zealand horticulture industry is to continue to be one of the best in the world. 

I am confident that our industry has a bright future, despite the current challenges, but only if we work together, much like the industry collective (kiwifruit, apples and pears, summerfruit and wine) is doing with the Government around the current labour challenge.  A collaborative, industry-government approach needs to be the approach in this environment, otherwise our industry and country will be continuously challenged by what Covid will inevitably continue to bring. 

Ngā mihi nui

Nadine Tunley
HortNZ Chief Executive