Supporting our horticulture industry

Published on 03 December 2020


Horticulture is playing an increasingly important role in the Far North and its growth is evident across the district. In the Bay of Islands, vast new kiwifruit orchards are taking shape around Kerikeri while in Te Hiku, avocado orchards continue to flourish. Elsewhere crops, such as berries, manuka for the honey industry and even bananas are being planted alongside traditional citrus and vegetable mainstays.

Warm temperatures and excellent soils provide the Far North with clear advantages for horticulture. However, some issues still need to be resolved before this industry can reach its full potential. One you have probably heard much about in the media recently is a lack of workers to pick, pack and tend crops. This is even more urgent since the global COVID-19 pandemic cut off a key source of workers when international travel was halted. For many years, the industry has filled seasonal labour gaps by recruiting international travellers and workers from Pacific nations through the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. Finding workers to pick our crops is not a new issue. However, what is often lost in media coverage is the fact that horticulture provides many types of employment, including highly skilled, fulltime opportunities.

Two recent announcements underline this. I was pleased to learn that the Kerikeri Gateway Horticulture Schools Programme has secured funding from Te Taitokerau Trades Academy to run another programme in 2021. Over the last four years this partnership between Plant & Food Research and Orangewood Packhouse has seen 51 students from five Northland secondary schools graduate from its horticultural programme. This combines science and horticulture and has a strong focus on fostering Māori talent, particularly among rangatahi Māori (Māori youth). This is not just about picking fruit. The programme covers health and safety, winter pruning, field grafting, kiwifruit canopy management, crop-thinning, harvesting of kiwifruit, and grading and packing of fruit crops. Anyone interested in a horticulture career should visit a jobs expo being held in Kerikeri next Wednesday. Go Hort, which is running the expo, works directly with industry, schools and tertiary education providers to link people with horticulture employers. It is funded by the Provincial Growth Fund and the New Zealand Fruitgrowers Charitable Trust. The expo will run 12.15 – 2.15pm at the Cornerstone Church, 144 Kerikeri Rd.

As well as workers, horticulture needs access to dependable water supplies, and this is being addressed near Kaitaia and Kaikohe. Using funding from the Provincial Growth Fund, Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust is planning to develop up to four water storage reservoirs and delivery systems near Kaikohe. This will allow property owners to transform low-yield pastoral land into high-yield and employment rich businesses. A similar approach is being taken by Te Rarawa, which is building a reservoir on its Sweetwater farm just north of Ahipara. It aims to convert its existing dairy operation into a more sustainable, higher-return horticultural one.

With care and good planning, including around the issues of water use and crop sprays, our bourgeoning horticulture industry will provide our people with new and sustainable economic opportunities. I’ll support that.