Horticulture helps New Zealand's primary sector exports and jobs rise despite challenging year

New Zealand’s primary sector exports and jobs are up again amid the COVID-19 global pandemic and US-China trade war, which supports the country's economic recovery, according to the NZ government.

Stats NZ has reported New Zealand’s merchandise exports in August were up 8.6% on a year ago, driven by an increase in the value of our fruit which is up 28.2% with gold kiwifruit up 48%.

“Our farmers and growers are supporting our economic recovery by earning top dollar based on a reputation of sustainable food production. The smart thing to do is to keep supporting this success,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said. “Our focus on jobs over the past three years also showed through, with Stats NZ also reporting today that the number of filled jobs across our primary industries reached 99,920 in August, up by 8,720 or 9.6% from a year ago. We’re making sure people have the skills that businesses and sectors require through initiatives like free apprenticeships. We’re also backing our farmers and growers by positioning New Zealand globally, including doing the work to secure free trade deals with economies like the UK and EU.”

Across the whole year to August, all exports have grown by 2.8%, with fruit exports up 8.4% and vegetable exports up 6.3%.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says The Government is also working in partnership with the primary sector to support their environmental credentials which help us stay ahead of the curve internationally.

“This week we made a range of immigration policy changes to ensure the sector has the workforce it needs as summer approaches and extra jobs come up on farms and in orchards," he said. “People in New Zealand with expiring working holiday visas can now stay to fill short-term horticulture and viticulture roles, with Supplementary Seasonal Employment visas being automatically given to around 11,000 people holding working holiday visas that expire between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021.

He added that the Government has also made border entry exceptions for up and 210 agricultural and horticultural mobile plant operators, although these people will still have to undertake managed isolation.

“The Government will continue to actively manage these policy settings to make sure industries get the workers they need, while also ensuring New Zealanders who have lost jobs due to COVID-19 have the chance to find new employment,” Mr O’Connor said.

HortNZ welcomes the Government’s support of horticulture through immigration changes
Horticulture New Zealand has welcomed the Government’s latest immigration changes, saying they offer support to stranded backpackers and RSE workers as well as the New Zealand horticulture industry at a critical time.

"The changes provide stranded backpackers and RSE workers with certainty and options, while acknowledging the importance of the RSE scheme to horticulture and the Pacific,’ HortNZ Chief Executive, Mike Chapman said. "At the same time, we welcome the expansion of the Supplementary Seasonal Employment visa, which will allow people on expiring working holiday visas to work in the horticulture and wine industry, where there are not enough New Zealanders available to do the work."

Mr Chapman added that labour shortages have plagued horticulture for many years.

"COVID-19 has exaggerated the situation and put many growers under even more stress," he said. "In some cases, growers have not planted because they didn’t know if they’d have enough people to harvest their crops. Today’s announcement is good news. It gives growers across the country some certainty, and they are hopefully more positive about the future. The announcement supplements horticulture’s commitment to employing New Zealanders – including those displaced by COVID-19. Several schemes have been in place for years, to enable and support New Zealanders into horticulture careers."

The horticulture industry is now worth more than $6 billion a year to New Zealand, and he says the announcement also acknowledges the key role that horticulture is in a position to play in New Zealand’s economic and social recovery.

"Our industry is the lifeblood of many parts of New Zealand, from Northland to the deep south," Mr Chapman said. "Backpackers and workers from the Pacific enable our industry to meet seasonal peaks such as harvest and pruning, while at the same time offering thousands of New Zealanders permanent employment."


Sources: MPI and Hort NZ press releases

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