with Mike Chapman
New Zealand now has a new government, led by the Labour Party, with New Zealand First and the Green Party. Much has already been said about how unique this is – three parties with strong views banding together to govern New Zealand.
All of their policies point to wanting New Zealanders to do well and we believe access to healthy food will be an important part of the mix. So we now have a great opportunity to talk to the new ministers and their staff about our horticulture story – the opportunities and challenges.
Our number one issue is biosecurity. At Horticulture New Zealand we are expanding our biosecurity team from one to three experts so we can assist the industry in being fully prepared and ready to meet the biosecurity challenges that, doubtless, are coming our way.
It is vital that the new government understands how important it is to maintain very high controls at our borders and continues to enhance the protections already in existence. More importantly, the government must keep funding flowing into response preparation so that we can respond quickly and hopefully eradicate any new pest.
Marmorated stink bug
Number one on our list is the brown marmorated stink bug and our number one job – industry and government working together – is to prepare our response.
With our borders secure from biosecurity threats, the three key ingredients for successful growing are land, water and labour. In each of these areas, in conjunction with the product groups, associations and companies that make up the horticultural industry, we have programmes running. We need to acquaint the new government with these programmes and seek their continued support.
Protecting high value land for growing fruit and vegetables is one of our very strong campaigns. The point we are making is that New Zealand needs to be able to feed itself with fresh, locally-grown produce and not have to rely on imported produce.
There are some areas in New Zealand, such as Pukekohe, that are particularly well-suited to growing. These areas need to be protected through government policy. What many people do not realise, for example, is that Pukekohe provides the spring vegetables that feed New Zealand. If Pukekohe expands with 50,000 houses, as per the Auckland plan, that puts our ability to feed ourselves at risk. We cannot always rely on other countries to have food available for us at a reasonable price.
Water is also a critical – nothing grows without it. One of the key points for the incoming government is access to water, and not with a water tax. Access to water and the management of discharges are Resource Management Act issues. To effectively meet our obligations to the growers we represent and to deal with these issues, Horticulture New Zealand has also expanded our RMA team with the appointment of two expert planners, one based in Auckland and the other in Christchurch. We want to be much more proactive and develop national planning statements to assist our work with councils across the country.
Water policy is complex. No one pays for water in New Zealand. By law, urban New Zealand only pays for water treatment and infrastructure. There can be confusion as councils charge on a volumetric basis, but urban dwellers are still not paying for the water itself.
Rural New Zealand also pays for water consents and the infrastructure required to irrigate. So we will be asking the new government to treat all New Zealand water users equally and to be very clear about the intentions of any new water-use policy, and very aware of the unintended impacts that may occur, such as increasing the price of healthy food.
We are preparing an evidence-based case against a water tax, including looking at how it might bump up the prices of fresh fruit and vegetables. While there is speculation the water tax is off the table for now, at the time of writing no policies had been confirmed.
Skilled, reliable labour
We think anything that discourages New Zealanders from eating healthy food needs careful consideration, given the prevalence of health problems related to poor diet. The downstream cost through the health budget is reason enough to spend time and effort on programmes to encourage healthy eating, which is another one of our election manifesto points we will be taking to the new government.
Finally, we need skilled and reliable labour. We need to attract talent to horticulture as we have incredible careers on offer. This is no easy task and as an industry we need to partner with government on this, including on getting training tailored to industry needs.
We are looking forward to making good progress on these issues in the coming months and we will report on that progress in this column.