According to Michael Ahern, executive manager of Strawberry Growers NZ Inc, a levy will help modernise the $35 million strawberry industry. This may include expanding its $8.8m export industry. Ahern explains that newcomers to the industry have different growing seasons and they are prolonging the season.
Current production is intensely seasonal, with a big surge from October to early December.
“We would love to develop more export markets around that pre-Christmas time just to take the pressure off the local situation. One of the benefits of the booming trade is we have a lot more flights coming into the country… and then going out more importantly, to a huge range of destinations. Everything has to be airfreighted with strawberries, it is not a sea-freight product. There are freight possibilities that we could have only dreamed of 30 years ago.”
The proposed compulsory levy received 84% support on an individual grower basis and 71% on a weighted volume basis. Voter return was 30.67% by number of eligible voters and an estimated 71.99% by weight. This now allows Strawberries NZ to proceed with an application to the Minister of Agriculture.
Ahern hopes that approval will come through by Christmas, with final legislation in place by the end of February, so the new funding mechanism can be introduced by the new season.
Another key issue behind the levy proposal for Strawberry Growers NZ is that it is currently funded by one dominant plant producer which is a 100% subsidiary of the industry body, Ahern says.