Horticulture – the quiet achiever

26 Jan 2018


Across New Zealand, growers are planting and planning new developments, and capitalising on the spectacular growth of the horticulture industry. 

The end point to the growing cycle is for premium quality produce to be exported and sold here in New Zealand. In Central Otago this week, for example, I witnessed premium quality apricots being packed for sale in the New Zealand market, and heard about plans to expand production. 

This growth is reflected in our industry data for 2016 from Fresh Facts; volume of crops produced increased by 13% on 2015, and value increased by $600 million. A strong driver for this was the increase in export value; fruit exports increased by 35%, and onions by 38%. 2017’s data will become available this winter. 

From my travels around our key growing areas, and feedback from growers across the country, this growth is coming not only from better productivity but also from new plantings. The growth in volume and returns is encouraging new investment. 

The cutting edge is given to the industry through research and development especially with the development of new plant varieties. Plant & Food Research are at the forefront of this, and a world-leading developer of new varieties. This innovation gives exported New Zealand produce a significant point of difference compared to offerings from other countries, and offers New Zealanders access to the best produce in the world.

However, there are factors that will limit growth. Not all of New Zealand is suitable for growing fruit and vegetables. Elite soils and reliable access to water are the key ingredients. To ensure year-round, reliable access to water, water storage schemes will be needed; not only for growing our crops, but also for sustaining river flows, and providing water for both urban and rural New Zealand.

We only harness about two percent of New Zealand’s rainfall, so there is plenty of opportunity to capture more rain to support the expansion of horticulture. Areas such as Central Otago and Canterbury would not be areas of high quality fruit and vegetable growing without irrigation. With the impact of climate change rapidly becoming apparent, water storage will become more important to sustain our environment and our ability to feed ourselves.

Another limitation is access to skilled and reliable labour. In most areas of the South Island unemployment is very low, with job seekers counted in the tens rather than the thousands. Developing pathways so that growers can access labour is one of Horticulture New Zealand’s key roles. There are enormous and rewarding opportunities for permanent and seasonal staff in regional New Zealand. 

We have an excellent partnership with Immigration New Zealand, but one of our goals is to attract New Zealanders to become career horticulturists, to upskill and share in the bounty the industry is creating. Horticulture employs a lot of people, more than dairy even, and we still need more.

The majority of our growing is in close proximity to rural towns and cities, which drives regional economies and sustains those rural towns by providing employment opportunities; the towns through the fruit growing areas in Central Otago are testaments to that sustainability.

As horticulture grows it will provide more employment opportunities and further enhance rural New Zealand. Additionally, it will earn increased foreign return for New Zealand through our expanding exports. 

Confidence is strong for continued growth; let’s make sure the ingredients are there to make it happen.


- Mike Chapman, CEO