Pres­i­dent’s word

Lack of labour a con­cern

NZ Grower - - Contents - Ju­lian Raine | Pres­i­dent HortNZ

Some­one up­stairs has flicked the switch from drought to flood. I have seen here in my own prov­ince of Nel­son, 50% of our an­nual rain­fall in the first two months of the year. Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary are meant to be the dri­est months, too.

How can the weather change so much in such a short space of time? Those doubters of cli­mate change need to come and live on the land for a sea­son. Clearly the dra­matic swings will have an im­pact. New Zealand, which is re­garded as a sta­ble marine cli­mate, has had more than its share of dry pe­ri­ods and storms in the last 12 months. Many parts of the coun­try have bro­ken records for dry days in a row and now a se­ries of cy­clones have done their best to dis­rupt com­mu­ni­ties.

For some in my re­gion there have been cloud bursts that have dev­as­tated or­chards and gar­dens. My heart goes out to those bat­tling the mud and tan­gled mess that has re­sulted.

I al­ways en­joy the har­vest pe­riod as all the plan­ning, hard work, and risks in grow­ing the crop come to­gether. There is al­ways some ner­vous­ness that all the sea­sonal staff who have signed up for the sea­son ac­tu­ally show up. Then re­al­ity bites with how much crop we re­ally have out there. No mat­ter how much count­ing and sam­pling we do there is no sub­si­tute for ac­tual num­bers. This sea­son a num­ber of re­gions are con­cerned about the lack of avail­able har­vest staff. No mat­ter how much plan­ning, ad­ver­tis­ing and pub­lic­ity we have failed to at­tract enough staff. With many re­gions at record low un­em­ploy­ment there is just not enough lo­cal peo­ple avail­able to help har­vest. There is too much risk for grow­ers to just hope the peo­ple will roll in the gate. How do we overcome this? For those in the RSE [Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ployer] scheme it has been a god­send to be able to im­port staff to do the “heavy lift­ing” of the har­vest, de­spite its added cost. This has freed up ad­di­tional lo­cal labour and back­pack­ers for those op­er­a­tors who don’t have the in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port the added cost and re­sources needed to be a RSE em­ployer.

In the fu­ture ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy like ro­bots will emerge in both the field har­vest op­er­a­tion and the post har­vest sec­tor. This doesn’t help us to­day but does give us hope for the fu­ture. In the mean­time many will work longer hours than they should to de­liver an­other suc­cess­ful har­vest.

We are get­ting bet­ter at tak­ing chance out of our mar­ket­ing. For many of us long gone are the days when we would grow a crop for a sea­son, har­vest it, pack it and send to the mar­ket to see what re­turn we can get money wise. To­day there is plenty of plan­ning and con­tracts writ­ten prior to a plant go­ing in the ground or a tree or vine pruned. The risks are too high and

of­ten the mar­kets too del­i­cate to have crops grown on spec. Grow­ers can’t af­ford to have a year’s worth of toil, all of the grow­ing costs in­curred, then har­vested and packed only to find it doesn’t meet spec­i­fi­ca­tion, mar­ket de­mand or be wrong in tim­ing.

Some of us have multi-year con­tracts with prices ne­go­ti­ated and all we have to do is de­liver. Sounds easy but with slim mar­gins and the quirks of “Mother Na­ture” we still can end up on the wrong side of the ledger.

Hor­ti­cul­tures’ di­ver­sity, sound strate­gic plan­ning by many (prod­uct groups, grow­ers, pack­ers and ex­porters), cal­cu­lated risks taken and New Zealand’s mostly be­nign cli­mate have helped us be­come a suc­cess­ful in­dus­try. Added to this is the trust in our pro­duce and sys­tems that means we usu­ally get a pre­mium in both tra­di­tional and emerg­ing mar­kets.

Dur­ing Fe­bru­ary the Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand board vis­ited grow­ers in the Auck­land/Pukekohe re­gion.

As al­ways it was good to get out onto grow­ers’ prop­er­ties to see work in the field and the lo­cal chal­lenges faced. Many of the is­sues we ob­served and heard about are sim­i­lar around the coun­try in­clud­ing:

• The en­croach­ment of hous­ing onto crit­i­cally short Class 1 land

• Cross bound­ary ef­fects cre­ated by hous­ing next to pro­duc­tive land

• Short­age of staff at crit­i­cal times of the year for har­vest­ing and pack­ing

• The bur­geon­ing weight of com­pli­ance to deal with

• Ac­cess to ad­e­quate wa­ter, and the qual­ity of the wa­ter

• Lack of na­tional tem­plates to deal with en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, em­ploy­ment law and health and safety.

Other is­sues that were more strate­gic:

• Ad­dress­ing suc­ces­sion and es­tate plan­ning

• Cli­mate change and the in­crease of ex­treme weather events

• De­vel­op­ing bet­ter work­ing re­la­tion­ships with lo­cal coun­cils. It was very pleas­ing to see pos­i­tive as­pects of hor­ti­cul­ture:

• Grow­ers en masse re­spond­ing pos­i­tively to en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to by­gone poor prac­tices

• Look­ing af­ter their soil

• Tech­nol­ogy ad­vances and adop­tion of re­search and de­vel­op­ment

• Un­der­stand­ing and re­spond­ing quickly to cus­tomers’ and con­sumer needs

• Be­ing bet­ter re­warded for their ef­forts with re­cent mar­ket re­turns

• Grow­ers sup­port­ing grow­ers and their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

As we get to know more with good science based knowl­edge, clear mar­ket feed­back and sta­ble re­turns we can in­vest back into our peo­ple, busi­nesses and com­mu­ni­ties to make hor­ti­cul­ture even more suc­cess­ful. There are many chal­lenges that we all face as grow­ers but at the end of the day the only thing that pays the bills is the crop we each pick. each of you So I wish har­vest. suc­cess­ful a

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