There's an urgent need for a greater focus on science in the food and fibre sector.
Industry body Hort NZ is asking that any future government ensures the horticulture sector can develop “within a supportive framework that enables sustainable growth”.
It says the sector currently contributes more than $6 billion to NZ’s economy, is the country’s third largest export industry and employs approximately 60,000 people.
“What horticulture needs in order to continue its success in producing fresh and healthy food for New Zealand and export markets is quite simple.”
Hort NZ says the whole of New Zealand urgently needs significant investment in commercially viable water storage schemes, for urban supply, growing fruit and vegetables, and improving freshwater quality by enhancing river and stream flows.
“These schemes cannot be modest and need to accommodate previously unknown drought conditions across the country,” it says. “We ask for a nationwide assessment of water infrastructure to see if it is adequate to support horticultural expansion, followed by construction of water capture and storage schemes to enable the growing of healthy food.”
In regard to water allocation, Hort NZ says this should not constrain future land use and land management flexibility.
“Rather, it should enable growers to respond and take into account the positive and negative effects that land-use type and property scale have on environmental, social, economic and cultural values, within a catchment context.”
The industry body is urging an incoming government to adopt an allocation model that provides certainty, while allowing for variation between catchments. “Transitioning to the new allocation model needs to ensure grower viability and provide flexibility to enable development within environmental limits.”
Hort NZ says it has welcomed the current Government’s pragmatic approach to achieving freshwater quality outcomes.
“It acknowledges that growers know how to achieve the outcomes wanted while continuing to ensure that New Zealand has food security for a growing population.”
However, it wants recognition of the importance of commercial vegetable growing through a National Environmental Standard for Commercial Vegetable Production.
Hort NZ says growers currently lack some of the techniques and technologies needed for successful climate change adaption, while maintaining, if not increasing, food production and exports.
“Government direction coupled with investment and incentives for research and development is necessary if New Zealand is not to slip behind its international competitors,” it says.
It wants more government direction and investment in Crown Research Institutes to reflect the R&D needs of horticulture.
Hort NZ points out that grower developed, audited Farm Environment Plans are a powerful tool for growers to use to achieve climate change adaption, improve freshwater quality, reduce environmental impact and provide evidence for regulators.
“Farm Environment Plans are a pragmatic way for growers to achieve environmental outcomes. We ask for national and catchment wide support for Farm Environment Plans, and investment in their rollout and associated grower outreach activities.”
It wants government recognition that growers are in the best place to manage climate change and freshwater.
“Growers’ Farm Environment Plans should be exempt from horticulture consultant sign off, provided the grower has attended industry workshops.”
Horticulture New Zealand’s vision – through GAP schemes – is to see ‘just one auditor come up the drive’ – and that this auditor be able to conduct audits remotely.
“We ask that central and local government recognise GAP schemes.”
Meanwhile, it says horticulture’s growth has been hampered by labour shortages across growing, harvesting, value-add processing and transportation. “We ask that the reform of the education and training system needs is completed, while ensuring that the system reflects post-Covid requirements for flexible delivery and innovation.”
Hort NZ also points out that the sector relies heavily on seasonal workers for harvest and pruning.
“We acknowledge the current situation with the border. But long-term, we ask that the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme is expanded to support the continued growth of horticulture.”
The industry is also pushing for a firm date to be imposed for Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) to begin.
Hort NZ believes more delays to it becoming mandatory are a “misalignment” with government calls to buy and support local.
“We ask that the government makes Country of Origin Labelling mandatory by 1 January 2021.”