President’s Word Ministry of Food is food for thought
Since I wrote last month’s column we finally have a government confirmed. Labour and NZ First, with the Greens in support, have formed a majority. I congratulate them on their win and look forward to working with Hon Damien O’Connor our new agriculture minister. As president of Horticulture New Zealand, I would like to publicly express my thanks to the Hon Nathan Guy, Hon Michael Woodhouse, Hon Anne Tolley, Hon Todd McClay and a number of other members of Parliament I worked with over the last five years. The horticulture industry has achieved a lot in recent years and your help has been appreciated during this time.
Despite what some may think and espouse, the political arena is a tough environment. There is a difficult job interview every three years to retain the government benches or even a seat in the House. Congratulations to all those who were successful in September.
Damien O’Connor and I met within a few days of his appointment as Minister of Agriculture and have discussed the key issues in front of us both. I look forward to his support of the horticulture industry as we continue to progress and grow.
The last few months have highlighted the disruption of change. In horticulture we experience change all of the time at different degrees of pace. “Disrupt or be disrupted” is a modern term. As we all know doing “the same old same old” is not an option as the rate of change in everything we do is speeding up. We see this with examples of new thinking, methods or devices, like
• Drones and their use/application.
• Intelligent machines in the field (growing, monitoring, harvesting), packing and storage.
• Using smart phones to their full potential. Believe me there is an app for everything. My iPhone is more powerful than our first computer. I used to use a mobile phone to just ring people. Now it’s capable of doing more than 100 things daily. It is used for business, private, local, national, international, measuring, counting, recording, calculating, note taking, transferring, accessing social media, filming, playing music, health monitoring, gathering information, seeing weather forecasts, getting news as it happens, banking, as a torch, a light meter, ubering, entertaining, text messaging - the list goes on and on and expands every year. Plus I still make the odd phone call.
• Sensing and the use of remote senses to tell us information as it happens. Analyzing the data captured by others and comparing it with mine. Watching trends.
• Precision agriculture (using inputs related to expected yields).
• Are you robot-ready?
• Reduction of waste and energy.
• Recycling of materials.
• Are you controlling the controllable? And thinking about how to handle the things that are currently uncontrollable?
It is exhausting and challenging. Where do we get the energy to keep up? However, to be blunt, we have to adapt or we become obsolete. The same is true with our social and political issues.
The impact of a new government and new issues will mean we have to change and adjust. A number of old issues haven’t gone away and they continue to be brought to the table to be addressed including:
• Climate change
• Water quality and availability
• Protection of our elite soils
• Trade and market access
• RMA and inconsistency of how it is applied
• Labour needs, skills and training
• The growing wall of compliance.
It is interesting that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been de-limbed into the separate departments of forestry, fisheries and agriculture. With our horticulture industry under the agriculture banner I would hope that there is more attention given to our specialist needs. Indeed I would submit we need a greater emphasis on food and not just production systems. Food should encompass not only our nutritional needs, but be balanced, healthy and safe. It should be promoted as a prevention of medical issues, part of our culture and an attraction for tourists. Food has a greater role to play in our communities and individual wellbeing. Capturing hearts and minds will mean we need to have a better name and phrase to promote the Ministry of Food. Any ideas?
Sure, we still require regulatory and government-togovernment functions, policy, food safety and biosecurity but a ministry that promotes food from all angles is a must have in my book. Part of it would come out of the Ministry of Agriculture, part out of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development and we need close ties with our ministries of culture and tourism too. Food for thought and wellbeing, anyone?
Last month I was privileged to talk with the participants on the horticulture leaders’ course as they completed the last leg of the 2017 programme in Wellington. It was great to see the diversity and natural talent within the group. These 17 people will grow and learn and give back to our industry in so many ways. The nurturing of this group is very important as horticulture in New Zealand builds its presence. They have the energy, skills and determination to steer us along the pathway of change. These new and emerging leaders will take our industry forward to meet the challenges of an ever-changing political, environmental, financial and social landscape. Like them I’m looking forward to it, too.