July 2022 update
By Jen Scoular
New Zealand is open. Wow, that has taken a while and perhaps, taken its toll.
I successfully flew out of New Zealand, into Australia and back last week, to attend the wonderfully populated Hort Connections. I say ‘successfully’ because the system required to get into Australia and back to NZ is certainly not perfectly calibrated, yet. Uploading jpegs or scans of documents was not always successful, transferring from a download to an app, created some difficulties. I then found one document which didn’t match the Air NZ booking in my full name and was informed the documents were for the wrong person. The solution, after several hours of travel stress was easy – ‘please fill in this one-page form’ and off you go. There was acknowledgement on the Australian side that the system was not quite ready. Hopefully officials will focus first on ensuring those very systems are taken away rather than fixing them.
Hort Connections, the Australian/New Zealand produce trade show and conference, was hosted by International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA Australia-NZ) and AUSVEG. IFPA is the new entity formed when Product Marketing Association (PMA) and United Fresh in the United States joined up. I joined the board of IFPA Australia-NZ nearly two years ago, primarily for networking purposes. It was wonderful to finally have my first in-person board meeting, meet fellow board members and be amongst the 3100 people at the conference.
After New Zealand’s isolation, 3100 people is quite a lot! There is much more depth behind that familiar – ‘lovely to see you’. Not just a casual greeting but, ‘lovely to see that you haven’t been struck by covid, lovely to see that business is still operating, lovely to see you in real life’. The restraint we have felt about hugging, even about shaking hands was gone.
The new Australian Agriculture Minister joined the conference, in day seven of his role. He was up with play, on the challenges of labour, supply chain, input costs and the very low percentage of fresh produce that Australia exports. While he and a number of speakers talked up the projects to seek market access, I wondered if they really had the knowledge of the layers of system that need to be in place before market access is even contemplated by new markets. The on-orchard, packer and exporter requirements, the grade standards and data management. The residue testing, the education and implementation of understanding on maximum residue levels or pre-harvest intervals.
Looking at Australia’s statistics, their fruit and vegetable exports were AUD$1.7b. According to the Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries report, New Zealand’s fruit and vegetable exports reached NZ$6.5b in 2021. Not bad Kiwis!
Our sector had a very tough year last year, but at least when the Australian market collapsed, we had options – and our exporters pushed three times as much volume to Asia compared to the previous year. Because those markets were open, we have been developing them for ten years and our systems support growers producing avocados with all market access. Significant assets developed with grower investment over a long time.