Diversity is the answer to food security

Hort Talk
with Mike Chapman
HorticultureNZ CEO

Last century, the majority of vegetables were grown close to the cities and towns where they were eaten. This meant that people got fresh seasonal vegetables and, if the produce was not grown close to where they lived, they didn’t get it.

That all changed with the arrival of chilled transportation and better roading networks. Vegetables are now moved all around New Zealand and vegetables are also imported. Consumers now demand a wide variety of vegetables year-round and do not focus as much on eating what is in season, unless they are shopping on price.

Climatic conditions and high quality soils dictate what crop is grown in what region. This means that at different times during the year, different regions feed New Zealand. Spring vegetables come from Pukekohe and in winter, Southland supplies carrots, parsnips and potatoes.

Growing vegetables in different locations mitigates against extreme climatic events. For example, the cold and wet conditions that affected the North Island through 2017’s winter and early spring were not so prevalent in Southland. So New Zealand was fed through much of winter by produce from the deep south.

Kumara shortage

Where produce is largely grown in one area, climatic conditions can affect supply. An example is kumara, which is nearly all grown around Dargaville. This winter, the very wet conditions made growing and harvesting kumara in Dargaville almost impossible, and short supply saw price increases.

Broccoli and cabbages were also in short supply due to the very difficult growing conditions, and also became expensive. On the other hand, carrots and potatoes remained around the same price because they are grown all over the country, including Southland.

It is therefore, important to have wide coverage across the country for growing vegetables so that different areas can be used to both feed New Zealand at different times, and to make up for short supply from areas where, due to climatic conditions, growing is impacted.

Urban encroachment

As a country, we should protect the areas that are important for feeding New Zealand and maintain a spread across the country to ensure security of supply. Places such as Pukekohe are vital to the supply of vegetables, particularly in spring and for the North Island in general.

Unfortunately, urban encroachment is impacting some of New Zealand’s prime vegetable growing areas. What we are also finding is the Resource Management Act and councils’ regional and district plans around access to water and zoning, greatly restrict where vegetables can be grown.

Relocating growing operations into the Waikato from Pukekohe has a number of impediments, including finding affordable land, finding land that is not destined to become houses and lifestyle blocks, getting land with the right soils, getting access to water, and getting past the Waikato Regional Council’s moratorium on land use change.

So at the moment, moving into the Waikato is all but impossible and, due to frost and different winter conditions from Pukekohe, will generally not replace Pukekohe’s spring supply of vegetables.

Relocation not possible

Despite what some commentators say, it is simply not possible to relocate growing operations to new areas in all cases due to the need for the right soils and the right climatic conditions.

These issues and other points are covered in a report ‘New Zealand domestic vegetable production: the growing story’ prepared for Horticulture New Zealand by KPMG. It can be found at: www.hortnz.co.nz

That report asks for a food security policy to be developed by government that takes a holistic, nationwide approach to feeding New Zealand year-round. This is what we are asking the government to do. I recommend you read this report and join with us asking for a food security policy.


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