Generating interest in horticulture during normal times is not easy; the media, government, and councils respond to bad news. Recent weather events are a good example of this situation, and bad weather promotes interest in horticulture from the wrong view point. The media is immediately interested in whether prices for fresh vegetables will increase, despite fresh vegetables being one of the cheapest grocery items. There appears to be an assumption that bad weather is good for growers’ income, but this is far from the truth. It is Hort NZ’s task to try and educate the media and the public about what really happens when there is bad weather, particularly making the point that increased prices do not mean growers get extra money and, if they do, it will at best only compensate them for the crops they have lost.
This highlights the growing divide between urban and rural New Zealand. More people live in towns and cities than in the countryside, which in general means that there is less understanding of the pressures facing rural New Zealand and, in particular, horticulture. A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown close to towns and cities and, as the town or city expands, high-quality land for growing fresh fruit and vegetables is progressively lost. Urban New Zealand needs to be shown that the continual loss of land for growing may see New Zealand having to import its fresh vegetables in spring. This is not a regional issue that can be left to local councils, it is a matter for the government to address through something like a food security policy. See the article later in this magazine for more on this issue.
New Zealand is coming under increasing pressure to meet its Emissions Trading Scheme (EMS) targets. To do this, there will need to be a radical re-think of what New Zealand produces. There will need to be a re-focus on forestry and horticulture, and such a change cannot be achieved with an ad hoc, region by region approach working through each local council. It is
something that will need to be led by the government.
New Zealand’s wealth is reliant on exports. Some 60% of our fresh fruit and vegetables is exported earning New Zealand valuable overseas’ revenue, and more of our fresh fruit and vegetables will need to be exported in the future, as premium produce earns the high value returns that we need to sustain these growing operations in New Zealand. The cost of transporting our produce to the overseas markets is very expensive as New Zealand is a long way from our key markets. To earn these premium returns, we need to use the best possible land / soils in the best possible areas and have ready access to water.To ensure that this land is reserved for horticulture, there needs to be a food security policy that not only concentrates on ensuring we can feed New Zealand,
but also ensures that we can increase production to earn overseas return for New Zealand, replacing the income lost by the necessary reduction in animal farming.
Every New Zealander can contribute to food security by buying local fresh fruit and vegetables when in season. Parliament currently has a Bill before it that, if made law, will require fresh fruit and vegetables to be labelled with their country of origin. For loose fruit and vegetable this can be done by labelling the bin they are in, and for labelled or packaged fruit and vegetables this can be done on the label or on the packaging. Our exports are labelled produce of New Zealand already, so it is time for our all produce in New Zealand, particularly imported fruit and vegetables, to be labelled so that shoppers can elect to buy local if they so wish. Submissions are due with the select committee on May 18, and there is a Facebook page you can show your support by going to country of origin NZ in Facebook.
The future prosperity of and feeding New Zealand is dependent on horticulture continuing to have access to high quality land and water in good growing areas. To enable this all of New Zealand needs to play a role. The government can do this with a wide ranging and comprehensive food security policy, councils can do it by supporting and implementing this policy, and every person can do this by having the choice to support local produce through mandatory country of origin labelling.