Grow­ers see wake-up call in fuel cri­sis

If the jet fuel cri­sis had oc­curred when New Zealand’s hor­ti­cul­ture crops were in full swing, ex­porters would have been fight­ing for air­freight space to get per­ish­able pro­duce to their global cus­tomers.

The Orchardist - - News - By Anne Hardie

For­tu­nately, the dam­age to the sole pipe­line car­ry­ing jet fuel to Auck­land was re­paired be­fore most hor­ti­cul­ture crops headed into their cru­cial ex­port pe­riod, but what would have hap­pened if it had been a month later?

Ge­off Lewis from Ten­der­tips As­para­gus in the Horowhenua was on the brink of ex­port­ing this sea­son’s crop to Asia and pre­dom­i­nantly Ja­pan and says his busi­ness is de­pen­dent on get­ting the highly-per­ish­able veg­etable to long-term cus­tomers as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“If it had oc­curred dur­ing our ex­port sea­son for as­para­gus, we would have had to com­pete with other per­ish­able ex­port prod­ucts, es­pe­cially seafood, for the re­main­ing space to Asia. Once spring comes, it’s al­ways quite a de­mand for space up to Asia.”

Ex­porters with per­ish­able goods are de­pen­dent on air­freight and though there are a good range of car­ri­ers th­ese days, Lewis says there are not a lot of di­rect flights to Ja­pan where most of their as­para­gus is des­tined. It means they of­ten have to link flights and the length of lay­over can be crit­i­cal for as­para­gus.

An­other crop with a short shelf life is cher­ries and in Cen­tral Otago, Tim Jones from 45 South says they truck out 40t of fruit ev­ery night at the peak of the sea­son, with up to 40% flown out of Auck­land to ex­port mar­kets. Re­li­able air­freight is cru­cial to the busi­ness.

“If it had hap­pened in Jan­uary, we would be ner­vous as hell,” he says.

NZ Hot­house at Dury is just 20 min­utes south of Auck­land air­port when the traf­fic is flow­ing well and while it had not reached its main ex­port sea­son when it would have been fly­ing out toma­toes ev­ery day, its man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Si­mon Wat­son says it still man­aged to ex­port fruit with­out dis­rup­tion dur­ing the fuel short­age.

“We’ve got a fairly good com­mu­ni­ca­tion line into the air­lines, so ef­fec­tively it hasn’t dis­rupted us and wouldn’t have be­cause Air New Zealand changed fuel strate­gies to make sure it had enough.”

It wasn’t a per­fect sce­nario, he says, but the air­line seemed to have han­dled the cri­sis well. How­ever, he says it was a wake-up call to au­thor­i­ties to build more fuel stor­age to avoid fu­ture problems. That may be a fait ac­com­pli any­way, he says, due to the in­creas­ing num­ber of flights head­ing to the coun­try with

tourists which must put more de­mands on fuel in­fra­struc­ture.

Lewis says in­creased fuel stor­age is more likely to hap­pen than an­other pipe­line fol­low­ing the fuel cri­sis, sim­ply be­cause the re­source con­sent process would make it very hard to get per­mis­sion for a pipe­line. Ei­ther way, dis­tri­bu­tion was crit­i­cal for per­ish­able goods and crit­i­cal also to play a part in feed­ing high-pop­u­la­tion cen­tres.

“Dis­tri­bu­tion runs the world. We have such a short sup­ply of stored food in all our coun­tries with high pop­u­la­tions so they be­come in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on freight. The amount of food held up our sleeves is get­ting shorter and shorter. The high pop­u­la­tion cen­tres are very vul­ner­a­ble and they’re en­tirely de­pen­dent on freight to feed them.”

In a coun­try like Ja­pan where about 30 mil­lion peo­ple live in and around Tokyo and pro­duce just 1.5% of their food, food has to be shipped in from some­where ev­ery day, he says.

“The fuel cri­sis in New Zealand does have a small im­pact on the food sup­ply of a num­ber of des­ti­na­tions through­out the Pa­cific Rim.”

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