New Zealand’s primary sector exports continue to surpass expectations with revenue reaching a record $46.4 billion, up 8.7% on the previous year.
O’Connor was addressing 600 people at The Horticulture Conference 2019 at Mystery Creek, near Hamilton. Its theme was ‘Our Food Future’.
O’Connor says despite the kiwifruit sector’s latest bumper season, it still struggles to recruit workers -- illogical in a strict market environment.
Overseas labour will always be needed, but more must be done to get the right young New Zealanders with the right skills into horticulture. And dollars are a factor, O’Connor says.
“Millennials have access to all the information they ever want. They are making choices based on values and based on their perceived future.
“It may not be what they hope it will be, but they have aspirations to have a better world and life and some of that comes down to the returns they get for their efforts.
“They are smart and have lots of options. So to attract and retain them in horticulture and other primary sectors we will have to pay them well.”
O’Connor says the industry must also give them pathways to a sound career and a reason to do what they want to do.
Another challenge for horticulture is to retain quality land to grow crops. Pukekohe, notably, and other cities, are under pressure to succumb to urban sprawl.
But the Government will not sit back and watch this happen, O’Connor says. It is now planning to protect high class and highly productive soils.
“I was alarmed to read a recent report showing more than 10,500ha of such land is already designated by local councils to be converted for use for housing.
“While we need more houses, places like Auckland should grow up not out. I feel strongly about continued urban sprawl, because it encroaches on our highly productive land and it adds to the complexities of infrastructure.”