People in horticulture We need more professionals
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.”