Uncertain times for all

31 Mar 2020 Uncertain times for all image

We are now nearly a week into lockdown and I feel it is important for me to acknowledge the pressure and uncertainty that growers and others in our essential industry are under.  From the reports I am getting, many growers are facing devastation with, as an example, no choice but to plough in vegetable crops that would otherwise have fetched premium prices.  Others are wary about planting for next season, as there is just so much uncertainty about.

We have combined with our product group organisations, so that together we can  provide the decision makers in government with pragmatic advice, and ensure they put in place procedures and processes that protect people from COVID-19 and reflect the practicalities of our industry – cultivation, pruning, planting, harvesting, packing, refrigeration and transportation – all of which are critical if New Zealanders are going to have fresh fruit and vegetables to eat today, next week and in the coming months.

We were very pleased when, as a result of several conversations and submissions, the Government allowed independent fruit and vegetable retailers to re-start or start contactless home delivery services last Saturday. (Read more here)

We are continuing to ask and point out to the Government the importance of allowing independent fruit and vegetable retailers to also re-open their outlets, given that between 20% to 30% of fresh produce is sold through these stores.

As I write, the collective horticulture sector led by NZ Apples and Pears is also working with the Government on guidelines around accommodation, transport and the 2m social distancing rule. These guidelines will give growers and packhouse operators confidence that they are doing the right thing and will be used by Ministry for Primary Industries officials for verification.

As an industry, we must remember in everything we do that the chief objective of the lockdown is to stop the spread of COVID-19.  At all times, we must put this objective at the front and centre of our entire operation, and safeguard the health of ourselves, our employees and the buying public.

If we don’t, we won’t be doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the privilege we have as an essential industry could be lost.  The Government has been quite clear with me and other product group leaders that our continued operation in lockdown is a privilege.

But, if we work together as an industry, in cooperation with the Government and officials, and use our common sense where there is uncertainty, I am sure our industry will maintain the respect of the Government and the public.  That we will continue to be part of the backbone of New Zealand’s economy, and businesses will find ways to prosper again, taking advantage of probable changes in distribution methods and customer demand.

What I can say with certainty is that consumer demand – here and overseas – for fresh, healthy New Zealand-grown fruit and vegetables, will remain and will probably increase, as people reflect on the way they live after this crisis is over.

In closing, my phone is always on and my emails are always answered.  This is a difficult time for us all and only by supporting each other and staying connected will we get through the uncertainties ahead and see our industry emerge stronger and return to prosperity.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive