There's an urgent need for a greater focus on science in the food and fibre sector.
Tomatoes New Zealand represents NZ’s 123 commercial fresh tomato growers who produce about 42,500 tonnes of fresh tomatoes in 120ha of greenhouses.
The fresh tomato industry has an annual farmgate value of $130m, including export sales of over $10m per year.
We focus our efforts on being economically and environmentally sustainable growers of healthy, safe and nutritious fresh tomatoes in a progressive industry that will attract investment. And our goal is to double the value of the fresh tomato sector from its 2014 value to $200m by October 2020.
Given the finite opportunity to increase domestic value and sales, we have a major focus on export markets and delivering high quality fresh tomatoes that attract a premium price. In the year ended March 31, 2018, the fresh tomato industry exported 3641 tonnes at a value of $12.24m (FOB). Key markets include Japan, Australia, Pacific Islands and Canada. Over winter, last year, we saw higher levels of imported tomatoes from Australia than is normal, which have to be irradiated due to the fruit fly risk they present.
A key issue for our industry is carbon zero 2050 and the associated government policies and Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that will be used to reach this goal. The tomato industry is already part of the NZETS through units paid on heating greenhouses, which results in significant production costs for our growers.
While we can understand the aspirational government goals, we believe there needs to be significant investment in research and the development of new technology to give growers the tools they will need to lower net emissions while still remaining competitive economically especially considering our competitors internationally don’t have these additional production costs. Any government policy changes in such a significant area need to be progressed in a consistent and fiscally prudent manner.
Biosecurity of course is another key focus for us. We are signatories to the Government Industry Agreement on Biosecurity Readiness and Response (GIA) and the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and Fruit Fly readiness and response operational agreements, and we’re currently working towards a tomato sector operational agreement for our top priority pests which we hope to sign with MPI before the end of this year.
Last year, members of Tomatoes NZ voted in favour of a biosecurity levy, now being signed off by MPI.
But existing pests in NZ at times cause major production challenges and as an industry we are spending much time and effort on finding biological control approaches for these. We applied and obtained approval from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to import Tamarixia to control a recently introduced psyllid, but these processes are expensive and take a lot of time, resulting in us also looking within NZ to find biological control solutions.
We are working with the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University and funding a PhD student to identify insects already present in NZ that will kill some of our glasshouse pests, especially whitefly.
• Barry O’Neil is the chair Tomatoes NZ and newly elected president of Horticulture NZ.