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Tuesday, 18 January 2022 09:55

Vaccination critical - MPI boss

Written by  Peter Burke
MPI director general Ray Smith is encouraging every business in the primary sector to get their people vaccinated. MPI director general Ray Smith is encouraging every business in the primary sector to get their people vaccinated.

Vaccination against Covid-19 is absolutely critical to the success of the whole primary sector.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) director-general Ray Smith told Rural News that he's encouraging every business in the primary sector to get their people vaccinated and have strong supporting policies around this.

"It underpins our mobility as individuals and for firms to prosper without having sickness," he says. "My own organisation with 4,000 staff has a 97% vaccination rate and now, unless you have been vaccinated, you can't come into work here."

Smith admits one of the big challenges for MPI in 2022 will be bedding in the environmental changes, which he claims are needed to improve NZ's sustainability and farming practices. He says the country is starting in a good place but it has more to do.

Smith adds that MPI will also be looking hard at climate related issues and how to address that methane gas issues from our livestock production.

Smith and all sector business leaders will be meeting to try and figure out how they can address that issue, he says. "It's a big one for the sector and we are all committed to do it, and [to] solving those sustainability issues, as they will underpin the future of NZ's primary sector."

Smith believes the world will look at trade through a lens of greenhouse gas emissions, and governments and consumers will want to buy goods that have a lower carbon footprint. He says the challenge for the primary sector is to rise to that and get ahead of the rest of the market.

"We can do that as we have a great investment in the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Centre," Smith claims. "I think we could go further to try and develop inhibitors; a vaccine will be a bit further out and there will be a range of farm management practice changes that can help us along the way," he says.

Labour Pains

Another issue that MPI will be focused on in 2022 is the labour shortages in the sector.

Smith says the market is very competitive and MPI is promoting its 'Opportunity Grows Here' programme and going out to all New Zealanders to let them know about the type of jobs available in the primary sector, and where those opportunities exist.

He claims that so far 8,000 people have found their way to work in the sector by accessing the 'Opportunity Grows Here' website.

"There is no doubt that the labour market is very challenging," Smith told Rural News.

"In the past, employers have been able to rely on people such as backpackers just walking up to the front gate asking for a job. But now employers have to be much more planned and deliberate about finding labour sources. It's not easy but you can do it."

Smith says the orchard that he visited in Cromwell a few weeks ago was a good example of a family run business that was well planned and had got their labour sorted fine.

Meanwhile, he says all those involved in the primary sector should feel very proud of their achievements since Covid arrived two years ago. He says they have done a great job generating wealth for all Kiwis.

Smith believes the future outlook is also good with consumers being prepared to pay high prices for our products.

"We have got great market access around the world and we have got products that are underpinned by strong biosecurity and food safety systems," he adds.

"The challenges are around global logistics, the cost of freight and the reliability of freight. There will be various pressure points. But overall, there is strong demand for NZ products in a world that is after more protein - so we are in a very positive place."

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