Peo­ple in hor­ti­cul­ture We need more pro­fes­sion­als

The Orchardist - - Contents - By Peter Kemp

The hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try earns more than five times the ex­port dol­lars per hectare than dairy­ing with 123,000 hectares re­sult­ing in over $3.5 bil­lion in ex­ports. In com­par­i­son 11 mil­lion hectares of pas­ture is used to pro­duce the almost $20 bil­lion in ex­ports from our pas­toral live­stock in­dus­tries.

Hor­ti­cul­ture is al­ready one of our big­ger in­dus­tries with prod­ucts go­ing to 120 coun­tries and em­ploy­ing 50,000 peo­ple. It has huge po­ten­tial for growth as the mid­dle in­come earn­ers of Asian coun­tries in­crease.

Hor­ti­cul­ture does not re­quire as much land as pas­toral in­dus­tries or forestry to con­tinue its growth.

Not all agri­cul­tural land is suit­able for hor­ti­cul­ture but the ex­pan­sion of the in­dus­try is not as land limited as the dairy in­dus­try, es­pe­cially as ir­ri­ga­tion be­comes more widely avail­able.

Hor­ti­cul­ture pro­vides New Zealand with the op­por­tu­ni­ties to make more money from highly priced farm­land and to di­ver­sify our econ­omy. “The hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try earns more than five times the ex­port dol­lars per hectare than dairy­ing with 123,000 hectares re­sult­ing in over $3.5 bil­lion in ex­ports.”

The as­pi­ra­tion to ramp up hor­ti­cul­ture ex­ports is al­ready there. Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand, for ex­am­ple, has a tar­get of a $10 bil­lion in­dus­try by 2020. To achieve this growth is not just about grow­ing more fruit and vegetables. It is about high qual­ity fresh and pro­cessed prod­ucts that at­tract pre­mium prices. Prod­ucts as di­verse as wine, ki­wifruit, onions and snap frozen vegetables high­light the level of in­no­va­tion and sci­ence al­ready present in New Zealand hor­ti­cul­ture.

To con­tinue to grow, the in­dus­try needs more univer­sity qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als able to pro­vide the re­search, ad­vice, man­age­ment and lead­er­ship.There is a big short­age of suit­ably qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als. The gov­ern­ment says 15,000 more qual­i­fied work­ers will be needed by 2025. This prob­lem is a clas­sic case of the pub­lic per­cep­tion not pick­ing up on the highly paid ex­cit­ing ca­reers avail­able in pro­fes­sions that are not reg­u­larly por­trayed in the me­dia.

Two cur­rently ad­ver­tised jobs, pack­house man­ager or pro­duc­tion gen­eral man­ager, lack a cer­tain per­ceived sta­tus com­pared with lawyer or doc­tor but the salaries and con­di­tions are ex­cel­lent. Both th­ese jobs re­quire ter­tiary qual­i­fied peo­ple with lead­er­ship and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills con­nected to prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence in or­chard man­age­ment. One is based in Hawke's Bay and the other in Pa­pakura, so def­i­nitely not in iso­lated ar­eas.

I think that to some ex­tent the low avail­abil­ity of hor­ti­cul­ture pro­fes­sion­als re­lates to a mis­guided view that hor­ti­cul­ture is fruit pick­ing and prun­ing. Th­ese are im­por­tant tasks but they do not rep­re­sent where the ac­tion and ad­vances are com­ing from in hor­ti­cul­ture.

In­no­va­tion and en­tic­ing cus­tomers with pre­mium prod­ucts are growth ar­eas. Ex­am­ples are dy­namic con­trolled at­mos­phere for trans­ported av­o­ca­dos, ro­bot pick­ing of ki­wifruit, minia­ture ap­ples, and BioLu­mics' use of ul­tra­vi­o­let light to nat­u­rally keep let­tuce seedlings mildew free.

It is an in­dus­try that has roles for sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers, mar­keters, pro­duc­ers and en­trepreneurs.

Hor­ti­cul­ture is al­ready one of our big­ger in­dus­tries and has huge po­ten­tial for growth.

We have the land, we have the cul­ture of in­no­va­tion, but we need more peo­ple go­ing to univer­sity to get de­grees in hor­ti­cul­ture to pro­vide the lead­ers and man­agers that will drive the in­dus­try into the fu­ture.

“We need more peo­ple go­ing to univer­sity to get de­grees in hor­ti­cul­ture to pro­vide the lead­ers and man­agers that will drive the in­dus­try into the fu­ture.”

Peter Kemp: To con­tinue to grow the in­dus­try needs more univer­sity qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als. Photo Sophie Kemp

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