Feeding New Zealand – the future challenge
When she first joined HortNZ, environmental policy adviser Rachel McClung was astounded by the rapid loss of productive growing land in New Zealand, mainly to urbanisation.
“Growing towns and cities are reducing access to some of NZ’s most productive land for growing fruit and vegetables.”
She said the issue of the loss of good soils in this country led her to investigate the often quoted alternative of vertical farming as part of her Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme. The results of her study have underlined the need for a national food security policy for NZ, she said. There certainly needs to be a “wider conversation” about how this country intends to feed its population in the future.
“There is some complacency about this because of the misconception that fruit and vegetables can be grown ‘somewhere else’,” she said.
“But the combination of the right soils and climate is necessary. With housing taking a lot of our prime soils and climate change impacting regional weather patterns, it seemed a good time to look at alternative growing methods, such as vertical farming.”
She found that vertical farming – where food is grown indoors in high stacks – will not replace traditional fruit and vegetable growing in NZ, but it may supplement it in future if technology makes it economically viable.
“With an estimate that demand for fruits and vegetables in NZ will be 33 percent higher in 2043 than today, a new way of thinking is required, hence my research.
“I found it interesting that while there are many recognised benefits of vertical farming, with the most prevalent being growing independent of weather conditions, the costs of the electricity needed for artificial lighting and temperature control, combined with the high capital investment and operational costs, currently outweigh the benefits. “I also found that the type of crops that can be grown in a vertical farm are limited to the likes of leafy greens and herbs, and that vertical farms cannot grow the full range of fruits and vegetables we enjoy in NZ.
“I surveyed growers to gain insight and while three respondents had investigated establishing a vertical farm in NZ, none had proceeded due to the economics.
“My conclusions include that the Government should take a balanced approach to the issue of NZ’s diminishing productive land and food security.”
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive, Mike Chapman, said the report is in line with industry thinking and the desire to have a food security policy for NZ.
Rachel’s report, Can vertical farming replace New Zealand’s productive land to deliver high quality fruits and vegetables in the future? – can be found here http://www.hortnz.co.nz/ assets/Natural-Resources-Documents/181126. Rachel-McClung.-Final-Kellogg-Report-VerticalGrowing-in-NZ.pdf
Rachel McClung – national food security policy needed.