Un­der the Mikero­scope

As one hor­ti­cul­ture con­fer­ence fin­ishes, plan­ning for the next one be­gins. For many years the same for­mat has been used for the hor­ti­cul­ture and other con­fer­ences.

NZ Grower - - Contents - Mike Chap­man | Chief Ex­ec­u­tive | Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand

Wel­come to the con­fer­ence of the fu­ture

This has seen some field trips, some tech trans­fer, and the main con­fer­ence agenda fo­cused on busi­ness ses­sions with pre­sen­ta­tions and panel dis­cus­sions on top­ics of in­ter­est to grow­ers.

Feed­back from this year’s con­fer­ence, with the theme, Our food story, has been uni­formly pos­i­tive. It was noted that run­ning that theme from the or­chard and com­mer­cial gar­den through to the con­sumer gave the con­fer­ence pur­pose and mean­ing. There were also very favourable com­ments on the awards din­ner where both NZ Ap­ples & Pears and Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand’s awards were pre­sented. These awards are cov­ered later in this edi­tion of the mag­a­zine but were par­tic­u­larly poignant this year with the in­clu­sion of the in­au­gu­ral en­vi­ron­men­tal award. It was also first con­fer­ence held in Christchurch since the dam­ag­ing earth­quakes of 2010 and 2011. Around 450 del­e­gates at­tended the con­fer­ence: about 300 of them were grow­ers. I would like to thank the con­fer­ence or­gan­is­ing teams and our lead or­gan­iser, Eve Wil­liams.

When we pro­moted this year’s con­fer­ence, we asked grow­ers what agenda items they would like to see at fu­ture con­fer­ences. With­out ex­cep­tion, the com­ment made was that it would be good to have a con­fer­ence that was more hands-on, with a fo­cus on fu­ture tech­nolo­gies such as drones, pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture and smart ir­ri­ga­tion tech­niques. Grow­ers want to see what is on of­fer, as well as hear about it.

There­fore, as a trial and to meet grow­ers’ re­quests, we are plan­ning to hold a hands-on con­fer­ence in 2019, at Mys­tery Creek, near Hamil­ton. Dates have al­ready been booked, so please mark your cal­en­dars for next year’s con­fer­ence at Mys­tery Creek from 31 July to 2 Au­gust, 2019. The con­fer­ence will have the use of en­tire Mys­tery Creek site, which is about 113 hectares. Mys­tery Creek has re­source

con­sent to un­der­take any hor­ti­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity in­clud­ing fly­ing drones, pro­vided per­mis­sion has been sought from Hamil­ton air­port’s con­trol tower. Ap­proaches are be­ing made to other or­gan­i­sa­tions to as­sist with hands-on out­door demon­stra­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties so that there is broad base ap­peal for the con­fer­ence. It is in­tended that there will also be some busi­ness ses­sions held in the tra­di­tional con­fer­ence for­mat, and of course, the par­tic­i­pat­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing Hort NZ, will run their an­nual gen­eral meet­ings.

I hope by chang­ing the fo­cus from an in­doors and largely speaker-based con­fer­ence to one of hands-on demon­stra­tions and fu­tur­is­tic ideas that larger num­bers of grow­ers can be at­tracted to the 2019 con­fer­ence. Mys­tery Creek can seat 1,000 and so that is our tar­get.

Your feed­back is in­vited on this con­cept and you can tell us what you would like to see at the con­fer­ence. If you also have ideas of or­gan­i­sa­tions you think could con­trib­ute to mak­ing the con­fer­ence hands-on with prac­ti­cal demon­stra­tions can you please let me know? I look for­ward to see­ing you all at next year’s con­fer­ence and to mak­ing the change to a more prac­ti­cal con­fer­ence a suc­cess.

With­out ex­cep­tion, the com­ment made was that it would be good to have a con­fer­ence that was more hands-on, with a fo­cus on fu­ture tech­nolo­gies such as drones, pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture and smart ir­ri­ga­tion tech­niques.

He her­alded the be­gin­ning of a new era for the prod­uct group, with the first ap­point­ment of an in­de­pen­dent chair. When he took on the job, he was no tomato ex­pert, but he did know a lot about man­ag­ing peo­ple, and in his role as a part­ner at Deloitte, he had led a Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand strat­egy re­view. “Then I con­stantly whinged when they didn’t im­ple­ment all of the things I thought were im­por­tant.” The then chief ex­ec­u­tive of Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand, Peter Sil­cock, en­cour­aged Alas­dair to take on some of the chal­lenges and pro­posed changes him­self by ac­cept­ing the role of chair­man of To­ma­toesNZ.

Alas­dair learnt the hard way that mov­ing from pa­per to prac­tice is not al­ways easy. He did, how­ever leave a sec­tor that has grown in value, and now has a truly col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach at the board level. “Peo­ple left their com­pet­i­tive­ness and an­i­mos­ity at the door to work for the good of the whole sec­tor.”

He ad­mits he had never been in­side a hot­house un­til af­ter he was ap­pointed to the role, some­thing he saw as a “sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit”. “I had no in­ter­ests, I was ab­so­lutely neu­tral; big­ger play­ers could con­fide in me”

He ad­mits he had never been in­side a hot­house un­til af­ter he was ap­pointed to the role, some­thing he saw as a “sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit”. “I had no in­ter­ests, I was ab­so­lutely neu­tral; big­ger play­ers could con­fide in me,” he says. The for­mula worked so well, his re­place­ment, Barry O’Neil, is also not a tomato grower.

Alas­dair says he has thor­oughly en­joyed his six years at the helm:

“they are a fan­tas­tic bunch of peo­ple”. Alas­dair had big plans to fos­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween tomato grow­ers.

“Across the whole of hor­ti­cul­ture we need col­lab­o­ra­tion to cre­ate scale; if we ex­port we don’t want to com­pete against other New Zealand ex­porters,” he says.

How­ever, col­lab­o­ra­tion is “vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble” with­out breach­ing the Com­merce Com­mis­sion reg­u­la­tions. “We need to be so care­ful with the in­for­ma­tion we col­lect and share,” he says. His aim to share grow­ing plans and level out sup­ply came un­stuck

when he re­alised they were com­pletely il­le­gal. He found even shar­ing in­dus­try best prac­tice was dif­fi­cult with big play­ers.

He is adamant the only way the tomato sec­tor can grow is by ex­port­ing; mar­kets have been es­tab­lished in Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, Pa­cific Is­lands, and US/Canada. “We need to fo­cus on qual­ity rather than quan­tity, a pre­mium prod­uct for a pre­mium price,” he says. Close to 10 per­cent of the na­tional crop is ex­ported, but this has a mas­sive ef­fect on the over­all prof­itabil­ity of local grow­ers, keep­ing times of over­sup­ply to a min­i­mum.

He is a big fan of Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand, and would have pre­ferred to sign up to the biose­cu­rity user-pay frame­work GIA (Gov­ern­ment In­dus­try Agree­ment) through that um­brella. “In­stead we had to make a separate le­gal en­tity to sign GIA.” He be­lieves pan sec­tor rep­re­sen­ta­tion is the key within the hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try. The GIA sign­ing was still a big achieve­ment, and has led to a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with the Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries (MPI), and bet­ter in­for­ma­tion flow both ways.

To­ma­toesNZ rep­re­sents its mem­bers - ei­ther di­rectly or through Hort NZby work­ing on mar­ket ac­cess, long dis­tance ship­ping re­search, and pest con­trol. The big­gest bene­fac­tors of these ac­tiv­i­ties were un­doubt­edly smaller grow­ers. “Three or four of the big­ger grow­ers may club to­gether and do this any­way, but it would be the 100 to 200 smaller grow­ers who would miss out.” Alas­dair says de­spite this, the most vo­cif­er­ous sup­port for To­ma­toesNZ comes from the big­ger play­ers. Highs and lows

One of the mile­stones dur­ing his time at the helm was to in­form the pub­lic that im­ported to­ma­toes had been ir­ra­di­ated.

“We fought for con­tin­ued la­belling so peo­ple could make an in­formed choice; they could buy cheaper ir­ra­di­ated prod­uct off-sea­son, or lo­cally pro­duced to­ma­toes.” Par­tic­u­larly Aus­tralian to­ma­toes need to be ir­ra­di­ated to re­duce the risk posed by Queens­land Fruit Fly to the New Zealand in­dus­try.

One of the big­gest frus­tra­tions was be­ing un­suc­cess­ful in im­port­ing a par­a­sitic wasp for the prob­lem­atic >

Out­go­ing To­ma­toesNZ in­de­pen­dent chair Alas­dair MacLeod, right, hands over the “chair” to his re­place­ment Barry O'Neil. Photo Ivor Earp-Jones.

glasshouse pest, white fly. To­ma­toesNZ un­suc­cess­fully cam­paigned to bring in the par­a­sitic wasp, Macrolo­phus pyg­maeus, which pre­dates on white fly and psyl­lid.

White fly has been prob­lem­atic in cover crop to­ma­toes, and one par­a­sitic wasp has been used in the con­trol of the pest for 25 years. The sec­ond would have re­duced the need for sprays fur­ther.

Alas­dair has had a long and in­ter­est­ing ca­reer, hail­ing from north­ern Scot­land where English was his sec­ond lan­guage, he moved to New Zealand on fin­ish­ing an un­der-grad­u­ate de­gree. He worked in Gis­borne as an en­gi­neer, com­plet­ing an MBA in New Zealand.

Alas­dair talks re­tire­ment, he moved from Welling­ton to Hawke’s Bay as a lifestyle choice just be­fore tak­ing on the role with To­ma­toesNZ. The MacLeods have a fam­ily bach at Mahia, and wife Mary is orig­i­nally from Gis­borne. They know the East Coast, and Alas­dair says Napier is a fab­u­lous place to live.

“We fought for con­tin­ued la­belling so peo­ple could make an in­formed choice; they could buy cheaper ir­ra­di­ated prod­uct off-sea­son, or lo­cally pro­duced to­ma­toes.”

He hasn’t been idle in Hawke’s Bay. He is the chair­man of the Napier Port, and the Hawke’s Bay branch of Ex­port NZ; pre­vi­ously as a part­ner at Deloitte he was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ing the ex­port sec­tor. He has di­rec­tor­ships on IT com­pa­nies Sil­ver­stripe, Op­ti­mal Work­shop and Ra­dium; he was on the Hawke’s Bay Re­gional Coun­cil strate­gic de­vel­op­ment com­mit­tee, and is a Trustee of Big Brothers Big Sis­ters, men­tor­ing young peo­ple from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds.

Alas­dair feels af­ter six years with To­ma­toesNZ, it is time to hand over the reigns, to bring some fresh ideas. “I will miss the board; they have been con­sis­tently bril­liant for six years; af­ter a quiet start, in less than a year ev­ery­one was par­tic­i­pat­ing fully. There was no lack of de­bate but also no bit­ter­ness,” he says.

He also com­mends the work of gen­eral man­ager He­len Barnes, who he de­scribes as “ut­terly bril­liant”. “She is in­cred­i­bly hard work­ing and pas­sion­ate about the wider hor­ti­cul­tural sec­tor. Her pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion kept the whole thing mov­ing.”

He is op­ti­mistic there will be an in­crease in tomato ex­ports, but warns there is no fu­ture in bulk loose prod­uct. “Peo­ple will pay for eth­i­cally grown to­ma­toes where there are no chem­i­cal residues and they haven’t been ir­ra­di­ated,” he says. New va­ri­eties and an ex­plo­sion of tomato “snack­ing op­tions” will set the in­dus­try up well for the fu­ture.

▴ Alas­dair MacLeod at home on his avo­cado or­chard in Po­raite, near Napier.

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