Trust not taken lightly
Retiring Horticulture New Zealand president Julian Raine believes the industry has shifted into a new space in recent years. That’s due to trust in its growers, systems and products, and so that trust has to be guarded with care, he said.
He’s spent five-and -a-half years at the helm and steps down at the end of the month to enable someone new with fresh ideas and fresh determination to take on the responsibility until the next election in 2020.
Julian has been an integral part of a flourishing industry and said good returns haven't happened by chance, but by the work throughout the industry that has earned trust.
“New Zealand produce is in high demand and it's because we have trusted growers and trusted systems and trusted products, with that reflected in the demand for our produce internationally - people are willing to pay a premium for that,” he said.
“But we have to guard that with a lot of care because trust is earned over time and it’s lost in an instant. We have to
“We couldn't pick our produce now without the RSE scheme - near on 13,000 people who come into the country
I think we work a lot harder than we did for our growers before and we are more effective now.
keep working on that. You can't stand still and you have to keep investing.”
Key to that is people and due to staff shortages throughout the industry, he said growers will have to consider aspects such as more flexible working hours and possibly creches for working mothers to attract people to the industry. By embracing diversity and doing things differently, the industry can involve a good cross section of society from young to old, male and female, all races and different creeds, he said. It's already happening, he points out, but the industry needs to ensure it continues.
Work in the industry will change over time as artificial intelligence and robotics make tasks easier, but much of that technology is not available today and that makes the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme so important.
“We physically don't have enough people to do the work and that's why the RSE scheme is essential to get the crop off,” he said.
“We couldn't pick our produce now without the RSE scheme - near on 13,000 people who come into the country - and those people help sustain the permanent roles we have and even a lot of the casual jobs. I see it as an integral part of the industry and sure, robotics may replace some of this over time, but that technology isn't available today or tomorrow, but more on the five to 10-year horizon.” While NZ's horticulture products are in demand, the industry's voice has increasingly been in demand as well in the past few years, partly due to its growth, but also because the industry has become more vocal.
“We're heard a lot more now,” he said.
“We were hardly ever invited to things and media didn't ring us up, whereas now they do ring us up and they value our opinion. We do have a respected role in Wellington and are respected with officials and politicians alike across a broad spectrum of departments and political persuasions.
“It's been through a lot of work and the growth of the horticulture industry - we've become a lot more relevant, but also through acting sensibly and responsibly. We don't shoot from the hip; we try and work with people and point out the obvious sometimes. Where we see people who are right, we say so and where we see they are wrong, we say so. We're a lot more vocal and we've earned some respect because of the sensibility we bring to some of the discussions and arguments. I think we work a lot harder than we did for our growers before and we are more effective now.”
He believes the industry's natural reaction to be upfront and proactive on environment issues has helped earn trust in the horticulture industry as well. Compared with other primary industries, it works more closely with the community, literally, as it employs so many people per hectare and is often situated alongside urban areas.
“We try and take issues on rather than hide them,” he said.
“We put our hand up and have ownership of issues. And I think because of that we get more brownie points in our communities. The community respects people and industries and businesses that say they have a problem and this is what we're doing to try and sort it out. If you have a better way of us sorting it out we're all ears. I think that is the hallmark of the horticulture industry.
“We could do better though and that's been one of my mantras - we're doing well, but we could do better.”
A continuing frustration for the industry has been the Resource Management Act which Julian said has led to bureaucracy that is nonsensical at times. Everyone understands the intent of the act, he believes, but it hasn't moved with the times, and in cases such as discharge consents and some of the planning rules, there's no logic. If an issue goes to court, the only winners are the lawyers and that money would be far better spent on the environment, he points out.
“Bureaucrats look at a rule and it becomes very specific and if the detail in it doesn't fit the case and they keep looking at their rule book to make a decision on that and there's little or no flexibility,” he said.
“You hear so many cases where the paperwork and resource management requirements cost more than the activity itself. This is just wasteful.”
Just as frustrating is the local body system in NZ which he labels broken. Too many councillors who get elected on a hot topic with no knowledge of any other activities are then more concerned about re-election than the decision-making process.
“I see it all over NZ with the three Ws - wastewater, fresh water and stormwater systems that are archaic,” he said.
“You've still got discharges of sewage around the place because they can - they have long-term consents. It's inconsistent and we've got councillors who have sat on their hands, warmed the seat and basically been incompetent for decades. And for the roading network as well. The whole system is broken and I'm just pointing out the obvious.”
It will take more than the horticulture industry to change the system, but he believes people need to start talking about it to get change.
Going forward, Julian said climate change will have far-reaching effects on NZ for decades with issues such as diesel, fertiliser and pesticides to overcome. So far there's no plan to tackle the emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2050 or how the horticulture and food industries play their part.
We try and take issues on rather than hide them.
One of the things that the industry does really well though, is adapt, he said. In the past 20 years, new markets and customers have caused it to adapt dramatically and often quickly to keep pace.
“It’s about understanding what your customers want, to be more receptive to their changing demands and in some cases fashion,” he said.
“We're seeing changes around ethnicity and what they want, so the fruit and vegetable varieties we grew 20 years ago are quite different to the varieties we grow now. You’re seeing the rise and rise of eastern countries and our ability to service those new markets and customers.
“I think horticulturists have been really good at adapting to those market changes and one of the reasons for our success has been adaptability. We've moved quickly to those changes, whether it’s a taste preference, how it is packed, grade standards and phytosanitary requirements. It’s all of those things and I think we've been highly adaptable and we've changed quickly to meet the demands of new customers.”
That’s an ongoing process and in the future the rise of micronutrients to isolate health benefits from certain compounds, will evolve, he believes. Extracts from foods will be added to remedies to assist health.
Stepping down from his HortNZ role will bring more time to be involved with his horticulture crops, though there is always the call for involvement in industry matters. He has just been appointed to the Waimea Water Board, the company created to construct the $100 million Waimea Community Dam near Nelson. It’s a project planned for future generations and has had a battle through the council process, but one he said has to succeed.
Success is something he says the industry has learnt to celebrate, such as the Bledisloe
Cup for contribution to the industry, the President's Trophy to celebrate inspiring leadership and this year for the first time, the Environment Award for work on sustainability. It has also celebrated 100 years of fruitgrowing and he had the opportunity to be part of the celebrations around the country, travelling to places like Ettrick in Otago and Pukekohe in South Auckland where families continue to grow produce a century after their forebears planted their first crops.
The whole system is broken and I'm just pointing out the obvious.
◀ Julian Raine - New Zealand produce in high demand.