Weather tests growers again

25 May 2022

Woodhaven Gardens was hit by severe hail on 20 May 2022.

Woodhaven Gardens was hit by severe hail on 20 May 2022.

Vegetable growers south of Levin are the latest to be affected by extreme weather in New Zealand. 

A freak hail storm and tornado swept through the area early on Friday morning, decimating many outdoor vegetable crops as well as damaging seedlings and at least one greenhouse. One grower reported that there will be ‘no celery until October’ and one grower lost most of their seedlings, which will affect future crops. 

Vegetables New Zealand and HortNZ share affected growers’ utter disappointment in the loss of produce, and the impact this is likely to have on supply and consumer prices over the coming months. 

Many growers are starting to plan for the greater impact of climate change on growing in New Zealand.  However, they cannot achieve what needs to be achieved by themselves.  That is why everyone involved in our industry – from growers to policy makers, and research and development providers to investors – needs to come together to ensure we can continue to grow vegetables and fruit sustainably and profitably, now and in the future. 

Many growers are finding it extremely tough at the moment. Off the back of a harvest period constrained by labour, they are facing significant costs increases for transport, logistics, energy as well as labour.

The apple industry has revised its pre-season forecasts. They are now estimating volumes up to 12 percent lower than originally forecast. This reduction is due to a combination of things but labour constraints were a big factor – either not enough people full stop or people having to isolate due to Covid.

As always, our resilient growers forge ahead because their perspective and investments are long term. However, they are all aware that the next 12 to 36 months will not be at all easy. The re-opening of New Zealand’s border will help, but there is still a lot of uncertainty around that. Just how quickly will backpackers return and how many will choose to work in horticulture? In addition, when will our young New Zealanders decide it’s time to start their delayed OEs or ‘overseas experience’? 

Some parts of the New Zealand Government seem reluctant to recognise how tough it is for commercial vegetable and fruit growers at the moment. I find this perplexing, particularly when horticulture is often used as the poster child for meeting what are now near-term international climate change commitments. 

In terms of the media, I sometimes think our industry gets a better hearing than the one we get from the Government. Product groups, horticulture companies and Horticulture New Zealand have been working together to get examples about the realities of growing – and the impact on supply and consumer prices – out so the New Zealand public understand the challenges and requirements of food production. 

This activity just happens to also be ahead of the Government’s response to the Commerce Commission’s supermarket review.  This is due if not overdue, noting the Government used urgency around the Budget last week to pass legislation ‘to stop major supermarkets blocking competitors from accessing land for new stores’.

While this law change is a piece of the puzzle, what we still need from this Government is a joined-up approach to food supply and security in New Zealand – an approach that truly looks ahead and delivers on a bi-partisan vision for a healthy, prosperous country.

At the moment, the Government’s vision for our sector is to improve grower margins and double the farmgate value of horticultural production from $6bn to $12bn by 2030. This will only be able to happen if the Government’s policy settings and investment supports the future of commercial vegetable and fruit growing in New Zealand, now and in a country increasingly affected by weather events and certainly, by rising costs.