Wide thinking needed for new world order
The world has changed immeasurably in only six months and the New Zealand primary sector has proven itself hugely adaptable and innovative when it comes to dealing with that change. Some of the key players have offered their views on “where to” for the primary sector for it to not only continue to support much of New Zealand’s recovery, but to continue to grow and thrive. They bring an assortment of views and opinions bound to provoke debate, and provide a foundation for a wider industry plan.
Damien O'Connor – Agriculture Minister
As New Zealand continues to work hard to bring COVID into check, the primary sector has proven to deliver a level of output and employment that has done much to underpin this country’s relatively strong economic performance, and help set a pathway to recovery in this new global COVID environment.
The resilience of New Zealand’s food supply chain has been, and continues to be tested in ways never seen before from the farm gate to the final supermarket shelf and the sector has exhibited a remarkable level of resilience and innovation when dealing with these challenges.
The silver lining in the COVID cloud also stems from the primary sector’s employment opportunities the crisis has offered up, something this government wishes to capitalise upon.
Across all the primary sector including pastoral, horticulture and forestry, job opportunities are available. This gives us the chance to reset and capitalise on the varied skills available and seek out people the sector can offer career ways to.
Government funding into skills including silviculture and winter pruning for kiwifruit have also offered a pathway for New Zealanders to engage in the sector.
All have reported good uptake in their early stages. For Kiwis who may face the loss of a job in another more affected sector, these programmes may provide an invaluable opportunity.
This will prove critical as New Zealand struggles to re-employ Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) workers who have returned to their Pacific Island homes.
The Government has made adjustments where possible to accommodate those workers who are still in New Zealand, easing visa restrictions on periods between employment and enabling them to move around New Zealand to other jobs more easily.
Seasonal work is always challenging work, but the primary sector is increasingly able to offer full time work to keen employees, and some very clear ways to upskill and advance.
Preserving and improving New Zealand’s biosecurity status, and reputation as a safe provider of food products has been another key focus over the Government’s term.
M.bovis presented the sector with a potentially devastating disease and over two years ago the Government embarked upon an eradication programme for M.bovis. We are now about 18 months, all going well, from being the first country in the world to achieve it.
The programme will require further ongoing monitoring to ensure the disease remains eradicated, but the efforts by farmers, Government and industry has mirrored the efforts made by the “team of five million” to work hard at COVID eradication.
M.bovis eradication promises to reinforce New Zealand’s reputation as a source of quality disease-free food, and remove an extremely costly disease from farmers’ herds.
Reinforcing New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and sustainable food source has also underpinned Government efforts as we work with rural communities on water quality standards and environmental challenges.
It has meant in some areas there have had to be some changes in practices, and winter grazing management is one the pastoral sector was required to respond to, and did respond to, well this winter.
The majority of farmers and industry leaders have accepted the need for us to back up the reputation we have for low environmental impact which has not always been mirrored by reality.
Combined with the work of the Primary Sector Council and their development of the Te Taiao “Fit for a better world” initiative, the work on water quality, disease and employment mean New Zealand is well positioned to now be able to meet the promise of delivering high quality food in a sustainable manner.
I believe we may eventually see a certified Te Taiao trademark to endorse the primary sector’s efforts producing food that is not only good for you, but good for the world.
David Bennett – National Party spokesperson for agriculture
The New Zealand Government has recognised the value of the primary sector in helping buffer this country from the sharpest effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for growth to continue in the face of such global headwinds, focus on some key areas within New Zealand has to be sharper.
Investment in water storage over coming years will be vital for New Zealand to be able to continue to advance its goals of lifting value in our high-earning horticultural sector. At its most simple a lack of water will only lead to a lack of growth.
There is increasing recognition that community water projects bring not only surety of supply to growers but can also deliver significant urban and environmental values – a number of towns around New Zealand struggle to source quality, consistent water for domestic and industrial use, and a policy that integrates urban, rural and environmental water needs is vital.
Timaru is one city that highlights how such an integrated approach can work, with demand for horticultural production sitting close to the city’s growing industrial water needs, and a need to replenish lowered summer flows for the town’s natural water systems. National proposes such a three-pronged approach which will provide certainty to investors, urban users and the rural sector.
Meanwhile, any future growth also requires capable, talented and willing staff to sustain it and the primary sector badly needs more people engaged within it. This can start with the farming families we already have, encouraging the next generation of farmers and growers from the current one, rather than seeing each generation have fewer farmers than the last. Encouraging farmers to encourage their own would be one key focus.
More effort in education is needed to highlight to students the role the primary sector plays in New Zealand and the many career opportunities it can offer them. That also demands more focus on informing students in urban areas about the opportunities they may not even be aware of through their school careers advisor.
Supporting those migrant workers who also wish to come here to work also remains critical, and greater leniency around visas for Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers is needed. This will be vital in the coming year as the shortage of workers here, and difficulties of getting more into New Zealand becomes very apparent.
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