Call to boost profitability

Afsaneh and Tony Howey check the progress of the blackcurrant crop at their Pleasant Point property.Photo supplied.
Afsaneh and Tony Howey check the progress of the blackcurrant crop at their Pleasant Point property.Photo supplied.
A newly-elected Horticulture New Zealand board member is keen for the sector to boost its performance. He talks to reporter Sally Brooker.

Kiwi horticulturists need to become a lot more profitable to realise their industry's goal of $10 billion in sales by 2020, Tony Howey says.

The Pleasant Point vegetable and berryfruit grower has just become a director of Horticulture New Zealand.

He was elected by the 5500 commercial fruit and vegetable growers whose levies fund the industry association. It has a board of eight growers, plus 18 staff based in Wellington.

Mr Howey said horticulture ''needs to be more than a credible investment alternative to the burgeoning dairy industry''.

''Horticulture should be a higher-value land use than growing grass for an animal to consume.''

Although his sector was growing, dairying was growing more rapidly.

''The reason why dairying is going gangbusters is because it's profitable,'' Mr Howey said.

He wants HortNZ to take a strong leadership role to help make the industry more profitable and sustainable, using eight tactics:

Promoting and supporting horticultural expansion as a sustainable, high-value and high-employment land use that the public will value and young people will want to join.

Encouraging participants to add value to horticulture products to improve returns per volume.

Supporting New Zealand's ''brand story'' in all markets.

Helping growers reduce compliance costs and nuisance by simplifying and standardising protocols.

Ensuring biosecurity breaches are challenged and risks minimised.

Ensuring growers cope with increasing environmental pressures.

Advocating for more research leading to innovation, technology and greater efficiencies.

Lobbying, in conjunction with other rural bodies, in areas such as labour availability, free trade opportunities and transport reforms.

Education and spreading knowledge will be important in improving horticulture's performance, Mr Howey said.

There are lessons it can learn from dairying, especially in adding value to what is grown. New Zealand mainly exports dried milk powder, which has the water removed before being freighted.

Fruit and vegetables are largely water, and bulky to transport. Instead of shipping onions to Europe, for example, New Zealand could be sending onion flakes or powder. And instead of sending whole carrots, it could extract the juice to be sold.

If New Zealand brands were developed and marketed well, that would add another layer of profit for growers, Mr Howey said.

He cited Zespri and Comvita as good examples of horticulture brand successes, although Zespri was still dealing in bulky fruit.

The availability of seasonal workers to harvest crops was ''a very big problem'', Mr Howey said.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme had helped hugely by supplying overseas workers while many New Zealanders were taking a month off every summer just when crops were ready.