There are many benefits to irrigation but from a farmer or grower’s perspective, it’s mainly about maintaining soil health and increasing the value that can be obtained from the land. Reliable water means consistent production for existing growers and reduced risk for those looking to switch to a new, higher-value crop.
Irrigation is more than an insurance policy against droughts. To be truly effective it needs to increase value in normal seasons too such as allowing an additional crop rotation, increasing yield from a given crop, or improving the ability to finish a crop in time to meet market expectations.
It has environmental benefits too such as reducing soil erosion during drought, as well as reducing leaching of nutrients during the wet period that follows drought by permitting plants to continue nutrient uptake.
The flow on value from irrigation comes in the form of increased land values and options, greater employment opportunities as well as increased investment from the land-owner. A 2016 report showed that the Kerikeri irrigation scheme contributes more than $100 million per annum to the region’s GDP and supports employment of more than 1,300 FTEs.
Avocado growers are represented by New Zealand Avocado, which has an industry strategy to quadruple sales to $280M and to triple productivity by 2023.
The industry is concentrating on growing the Australian market and opening-up the Chinese and wider Asian markets to achieve a sustainable industry growth rate. The long-term success of the marketing of avocados is based around a differentiated NZ story with evidence based on sustainability, environment and nutrition.
The export of Kiwifruit is controlled by Zespri - a grower-owned company which manages and markets Kiwifruit throughout the world. Zespri currently has a strong growth target, increasing its global sales from approximately $2.0 b to $4.5 b by 2025. The current outlook sees global demand continuing to rise by approximately 27% over the next five years.
To meet that currently constrained demand, Zespri plans to release an additional new production of approximately 9,600 ha of the new SunGold variety. This variety is licensed through an auction system. Currently purchasers of the licence are paying approximately $250,000 per productive hectare. Expanding the new variety into Northland is very much part of Zespri’s plan. Zespri has a payment system which differentiates and rewards payments for timing of fruit supply, taste, supply and a loyalty component.
The industry in New Zealand is managed by the levy-funded grower organisation Citrus New Zealand. Its prime mission is to defend and extend the core business of a mature domestic market and its secondary mission is to create a viable export market. Its priorities are to develop a customer-centric focus for the industry in the domestic market, investigate new export markets, and develop existing export markets to achieve $18 - $20m export earnings by 2023.
Most of the New Zealand citrus crop is currently sold on the local market with exports being timed to meet windows of opportunity in foreign markets when either the local producers or other exporters are unable to meet the demand.
A very high proportion of the vegetables grown in New Zealand is by large-scale corporates with highly integrated production, packaging and marketing, which allows them to retain control of their product until it reaches the retailer. The vast majority of their production is sold to the large supermarket chains across New Zealand. The remainder of the producers are smaller scale and usually supply their produce through the auction rooms or directly through their own, or other, smaller retail outlets. With the ongoing incursion of housing and industrial land use in the large growers’ traditional growing areas, and the increasing consumer demand for all-year-round supply, there is a definite move into Northland by the large-scale growers to ensure they can meet both volume and supply demands.
With its warmer climate, Northland can provide vegetables out of the normal season of supply if there is sufficient moisture. This is particularly so with the production of crops such as new potatoes or salad greens at a time of year when they are not able to be produced elsewhere. Many of the vegetables are grown in rotations which are designed to provide a mix of crops from the same piece of ground and to spread the time between crops to provide a break in the potential for crop disease pressure.
Food production landscapes are likely to be a more diverse mosaic of crops and land uses in the future. The interacting drivers of this change present significant opportunities for Tai Tokerau. Future opportunities for added-value foods are arising from an increasing shift by consumers to focus on nutrition, wellness and plant-based foods, sustainable food production systems with a light footprint on the environment, and equity for food producing communities. Future climatic conditions are also expected to change. This could create future market opportunities for food from Northland in subtropical fruit and foods, plant-based foods, oils, beverages, alternative proteins and indigenous Māori branded foods.
Indigenous Māori branded foods
Indigenous foods feature increasingly on global restaurant menus, and traditional Māori cuisine is experiencing growth and opportunity. The food industry in New Zealand is looking for unique New Zealand foods and value-added products for local and overseas markets.
Plant-based foods, beverages and alternative proteins
Consumer preferences are expected to trend more towards plant-based foods and “flexitarian” lifestyles, creating significant opportunities for New Zealand to expand and develop plant-based foods, oils, beverages and protein sources with light environmental footprints.
Subtropical fruit and foods
In coming decades, Northland is projected to be warmer (up to 1.1˚C by 2040 and 3.1˚C by 2090) with fewer frosts and more droughts in some parts. By 2090, Northland is projected to have 13 to 75 extra days per year where temperatures exceed 25˚C. Farmers and growers may increasingly use subtropical plants.