Thursday, 29 February 2024 06:55

Manawatu - the nation's food, fibre capital

Written by  Grant Smith
Grant Smith, Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith, Palmerston North Mayor

OPINION: Kia ora and a warm welcome to everyone making a living off the land, contributing to our regional and national well-being. For regulars who make Field Days, a 'must attend', it's welcome back!

Central District Field Days, with its March harvest-time associations, is a pivotal event on the national farming calendar, and a big event for us here, that we share with neighbours Manawatu District Council.

At the hub of our widely diverse agricultural region, Palmerston North City has become a major centre for agricultural production, servicing, processing, marketing, distribution, exporting, research, education and training.

Establishing ourselves as the nation’s ‘food and fibre capital’, Palmerston North and the Manawatu’s extensive agricultural reputation has been based on endeavours and initiatives carried on by successive generations of individuals, organisations, institutes and companies.

These laurels may be hard won, but they are not achievements we can rest on – especially in the highly charged, globally uncertain, high-cost and high compliance environment we find ourselves in.

Doing what we’ve always done is not going to get us as a region any cut-through. That’s why we have developed a Regional Food Strategy, showing our broad ecosystem in the national food supply chain. Home to 3100 food scientists, three CRI’s, FoodHQ and the National Food Science Centre at Massey University all strengthen our claim as New Zealand’s ‘Food Innovation City’.

Now, while there are growing international markets for New Zealand’s agricultural products, we still need to find new ways of leveraging these prospects.

So, in the past 12 months since the last Field Days, Palmerston North has been proactively courting its international connections with the aim of growing trade, technology and research opportunities – especially in foodtech and agritech.

This included a visit last year to Wageningen – a city in the Netherlands famous for its foodtech research – accompanied by representatives of Massey University and the Department of Trade and Enterprise, to explore reciprocal research, trade and academic options.

Last October, the city hosted the NZ Institute of International Affairs’ Mapping Trade Horizons Forum with former Trade Minister Tim Groser and UK High Commissioner Iona Thomas. This looked at how the new NZ-UK Trade Agreement could benefit our producers and manufacturers.

Early this year I headed a city delegation to China where among other things, we enjoyed positive engagements with the East China branch of the renowned Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) along with several commercial food and tech companies.

One aim of the trip was to attract a Chinese delegation from the city of Kunshan on the Yangtze River Delta to attend the fifth E Tipu BOMA New Zealand Agri Summit taking place this June in Palmerston North.

Held for the first time outside Christchurch, the agrifood summit’s purpose is to explore ways of redefining and reshaping this country’s primary industries. So, this year we have the exciting prospect of a Chinese Kunshan city delegation also signing a Memorandum of Understanding for collaboration with Palmerston North’s foodtech and agritech sectors.

It’s vitally important for us as a small city down near the bottom of the world to have an international perspective on behalf of local businesses and companies that are already exporting.

However, while our current international trade networks may now involve a range of other commodities, we certainly haven’t forgotten it was our primary producers who gained us that essential ‘first foot in the door’.

Kia kaha.

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