10Apr

Summer shows the need for a food security policy

Words and Images supplied by Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman

Summer was challenging for the horticulture industry, with drought conditions – which were particularly severe in the Nelson/Tasman region – and biosecurity risks in Auckland with finds of Queensland fruit flies and Bactrocera facialis fruit flies in different parts of our biggest population centre.

Both these situations reiterate the need for a food security policy. The drought conditions will have impact the availability of vegetables in winter, with planting delayed due to restrictions on water use.

The biosecurity issues in Auckland were still being addressed at the time of writing. But it is worth noting that 10 big produce distributors are located within a 3.5km radius in Mt Wellington, South Auckland. The estimated volume of produce passing through that area is 60 percent of New Zealand’s domestic consumption and 80 percent of Auckland’s consumption. So, if restrictions are placed on transport of produce, then there is likely to be a noticeable shortage of healthy, fresh food.

It is an ongoing battle to get people to understand that plants need water to live and irrigation ensures consistent food supply at times when there is no rain. It is not a free-for-all, there are rules and allocations to ensure enough water to go around.

Growers understand the need to grow within environmental limits and have been working closely on planning with regional councils for years. In producing healthy food, it is imperative to demonstrate environmental values, as that is what consumers are demanding.

Nelson’s fires and the dry conditions across the country have highlighted the need for water storage; for plants, animals and people. With many rivers at dangerously low levels, fruit and vegetable growers run the risk of having no water. Unlike animals, trees and vines cannot be moved to another area where water is more plentiful. If food producing plants die, it can take many years for a grower to get back into production. It is imperative there is sufficient water to keep plants growing and producing high quality, healthy food.

Many of the opponents of water storage and irrigation believe that excess water - according to NIWA that is 80% of the rainfall - should just flow out to sea.  More preference is given to activities such as jet boating, than to the ability for us to grow food to feed New Zealand.

Advocates for sensible water storage for the benefit of all interested parties are seen as not having regard for the environment. The irony is, water storage can enable the environment to be protected, river flows to be maintained, and for healthy food to be grown. Unless there is a marked change in attitudes, we could face a food supply crisis. 

The time for change is now, and it requires urban and rural New Zealand to unite to make good use of the 80 percent of our rainfall that we do not use.    

For example, on 29 January 2019 it was a hot day all around New Zealand. On that one day, Auckland used 524 million litres of water. That 524 million litres is equivalent to the amount of water 10,500 hectares of horticultural land would have used for one day of irrigation. There are just 120,000 hectares of land growing fruit and vegetables in New Zealand and not all of that land is irrigated.

Land is only irrigated when water is needed. Whereas, urban supply is consumed on a daily basis and the greatest user of water is urban New Zealand.  As our population grows, we will need much more water for urban New Zealand.  So both urban and rural New Zealand have a common interest in making sure we undertake water storage for people and plants to live.

The security of our food chain needs to be considered in all the big picture policy and law changes made by local and central government. There will be more challenging summers, and winters, and we need to be sure we can feed New Zealanders with locally grown, healthy food.

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