Conference 2019

SFConf19LogoSensational could also describe the spectacular Queenstown lake and mountain views from the Rydges Hotel conference room, and the brisk but sunny weather Queenstown turned on for conference-goers at Summerfruit NZ’s annual conference. As the Minister of Agriculture noted, ‘Happy 25th birthday, Summerfruit NZ’. 

 

Day 1

Chairman Tim Jones opened by welcoming delegates and thanking the organisers for bringing everyone together in Queenstown. He went on to thank outgoing Board director, Earnscy Weaver, for his many years of service and to congratulate Trudi Webb, on her election to the Board. After outlining the programme for the next two days, Tim thanked MG Marketing and all the generous sponsors for supporting conference before handing over to Roger.

Platinum sponsor MG Marketing’s Roger Georgieff welcomed participants, anticipating a productive few days. He commented that the last two to five years had been challenging for the summerfruit sector, with the fruit bowl of New Zealand expanding rapidly. 

He noted the growing domestic consumption of tropical fruits, and as these ‘better, brighter, tastier’ fruits had lifted the game, the summerfruit sector needed to match it. He urged growers ‘to innovate, be creative and capture a competitive edge’, looking outside the current square. 

‘Sitting still is not working,’ he said. ‘Continued improvement is vital, both on individual orchards and as an industry. We look forward to being part of that.’ 

Former Zespri CEO and chair of the Primary Sector Council Lain Jager challenged all food sector organisations ‘to really have your act together and work together more’ and ‘ensure New Zealand is perceived as a high quality food supplier’ to turn the Council’s mission to develop a vision for the key sectors of food and fibre into a reality. 

In a status-quo-challenging address, he said agriculture needs to take the lead, and stop being defensive. The Council has identified key issues as generating prosperity and sustainability for shareholders; creating and sustaining world leading global positioning and competitive advantage; environmental sustainability is non-negotiable; and focusing on health and nutrition is vital as it scores very high on consumer concerns, especially the top 20% of international consumers New Zealand needs to target. 

Put simply, he summarised that our nation’s prosperity and wellbeing depends on growing high-quality products that other countries want to buy and pay good money for, and sectors need to be much better at working together to achieve this. 

Peter Stevens introduced Global Standards 1 (GS1), the largest supply chain system in the world. Barcode-based, GS1 identifies products, captures product information and uses, and shares it with producers and consumers. 

A member-owned, not-for-profit organisation, GS1 is a standards body, offering unique identifiers, traceability tools and data sharing systems. It manages the NZ Business Number programme, which will eventually take over from GST, IRD, etc numbers for all entities in the global supply chain. 

It’s the move from physical ID of a product to digital ID and vastly expanding the usefulness of the information captured. GS1 barcodes are currently being scanned over five million times a day. 

The relevance for fruitgrowers is that as supply chains become more complex, the GS1 barcode allows end to end visibility. Producers can reliably identify specific products and specifications (eg organic/size/colour/country of origin) at any point in the supply chain to end customer. 

While QR codes relate to the product’s website, more consumer-friendly barcodes identify producers, product details and traceability. New Zealand has been slow to adopt traceability and integrity systems, and he urged all fruit and vegetable growers not to be complacent about a growing global risk, but to ‘step up’. 

Central Otago District Mayor Tim Cadogan acknowledged primary production is a major local player, with hundreds of hectares of new plantings planned, mostly cherries. As summerfruit matures from a small to big local industry, changes and adaptations to previous methods around employment issues, accommodation, freedom campers and grower accountability will be needed. 

Mayor Cadogan identified that the industry needs to work on: sharing the region’s good news stories better; encouraging locals to mix more with the ‘fantastic young people’ who come here so they better understand each other; and to create a more attractive industry so that local kids want a career in a growing, successful industry. 

Genuine local ‘reverse sensibilities’ also need to be addressed: frost fan noise pollution; seasonal worker overcrowding; losing valuable productive horticultural/viticultural land to housing, and retaining the special local character of Central Otago. 

New Zealander Winstone Chee is Vice President of Fresh Foods, Hypermarket Merchandising for Walmart China, over-seeing hundreds of retail outlets in southern China with over 100,000 staff. Online service and e-commerce are growing rapidly, as the logistics of stock deliveries in busy cities with heavy traffic and rental costs for large stores and distribution centres increase. 

Food safety is Winstone’s top priority. Walmart conducts 200,000 food safety audits monthly, so traceability from producer to customer, especially for cold chain products, is paramount. For in-store customers, convenience is the top priority, so they can ‘Scan and Go’, paying by phone on WeChat. For online customers, speed of delivery is the key factor, so orders are delivered by motorbike, within the hour. 

Speaking by video link, the Minister of Agriculture Hon Damien O’Connor described horticulture as an ‘exemplar sector’. He endorsed its collaborative approach, saying that because New Zealand generally lacks competitive scale, we need more alignment across sectors to complement each other offshore. 

He acknowledged the need for social licence for trade, so all New Zealanders better understand its value, and internationally to ensure WTO rules are applied consistently. Trade treaties like the CPTPP and RCEP (giving us access to half the world’s population) are priorities for continued access to important markets despite protectionist pushback. 

On biosecurity measures he confirmed intensive fruit fly trapping will resume in spring, and information videos on all airlines, tougher border vetting including postal, container and ship inspections, are all designed for the highest level of biosecurity. He confirmed cautious expansion of the RSE programme, aiming for more consistent work available through more coordination between sectors, backed up by R&D into emerging picking and related technologies. 

Special Agricultural Trade Envoy Mike Petersen’s role is unique: no other country has a sheep and beef farmer supplementing officials in advocating for our agricultural and horticulture sectors’ commercial interests internationally. 

Trade matters to New Zealand like no other country on earth. We export about 90% of production and only have a small domestic market. So these are challenging times for international trade (think Brexit, Trump, US tariffs on Mexico, EU) and it’s vital to keep doors open, take a balanced portfolio approach and stay vigilant about the displacement effect. 

Sustainability is the price we pay for market access. He urged growers not to think of this as a cost or compliance issue – it’s your access to affluent consumers. He supported the bold PGP programme ‘it looks on the money to me’. New Zealand has done well in China, our largest export market, but that level of exposure needs risk management – it’s not smart to be too dependent on one market. 

High noise levels over a delicious stand-up lunch indicated many conversations going on as growers greeted old friends, met new people and checked out the exhibitors’ tables and products. The bright green ‘stress relieving apples’ from Eurofins were particularly popular. 

Chilean cherry guru Oscar Aliaga Ortega’s highly informative presentation showed global cherry production rising from 1.9 million tonnes (2000) to 2.4-2.6 million tonnes (2016) to forecast 4 million tonnes. 

Cherries are now Chile’s major fruit. Production in China and Chile has grown most rapidly, and virtually all Chile’s cherries are exported, mainly to northern hemisphere markets. In 2018, 77% of the crop was exported in December. 

China is the dominant market for Chilean cherries as well as being a large producer, mostly for Chinese New Year gift-giving, but there are signs that Chinese consumers are eating more cherries generally. This market demands product quality: uniformity and fruit consistency, especially in colour, flavour, consistent size, firmness and travel condition. 

Oscar also supported extensive in-orchard programmes, including controlled ripening plus post harvest infrastructure, more harvest-friendly training systems, aiming for earlier production by adding beehives in orchards, wind cloth protection, trees on a 60-70 degree incline to control vigour, sustainable soil management and refining all aspects of crop load to maximise fruit quality. 

Managing seasonal workflow affects every grower and Helen Axby (Seasonal Solutions Cooperative) presented 2018 survey results. The core conclusion is that growers working together is the only way to secure future growth, with ‘right workers, right time, right place’. 

Social media has positive and negative effects: best reviews for pay and conditions get the most and best workers. Helen said that Working Holiday Visa approvals are down, while demand for seasonal labour is up. The industry needs to develop a stronger relationship with WINZ and up its own game with evidence of recruitment advertising, more and improved accommodation (‘no accommodation, no RSE’) and high levels of pastoral care. 

She summed up as ‘attitude, aptitude, availability, accessibility and age’. 

Marie Dawkins thanked growers for their feedback on Sensational Summerfruit at the stakeholder meetings and at conference. Feedback was wide-ranging; some supportive and some also concerned about the scope and scale of the programme.

To provide more information, MPI representative, Ross McKinnon, outlined the Primary Growth Programme (PGP) as aiming to achieve transformation of significant scale. A key feature is its flexibility. Because it recognises the pathway to achieving industry goals can change, so can the programme. 

To date, over 20 programmes have delivered positive outcomes and justified their investment across many industries, while showing an ability to respond to issues and adjust programmes where needed. 

Ross said that the PGP is flexible between projects and years, and as it is a contract between MPI and Summerfruit NZ, the programme is protected against a change in government. 

Catalyst’s Jane Lancaster recapped that the 2016 NZIER report identified the need for a paradigm shift, to do things differently with an integrated programme, with $16.6 million funding over seven years, with levy funds matched by MPI. 

Marie Dawkins and Jane Lancaster reported that given that there was some concern in the industry, the Board had decided to delay Sensational Summerfruit and consult further. 

 

Networking drinks

The always popular networking drinks rounded off the day in the hotel bar just one floor up, as growers and industry participants shared their thoughts over a drink. Outside the huge windows, the sun faded from the mountains and lake and township lights came on. Presented in stylish flute glasses, a cherry cocktail was greatly enjoyed by guests, made from cherry juice kindly supplied by Eden Orchards – cheers Gary! 

 

Day 2

Overnight it had snowed on the Remarkables, so we were treated to an iconic Queenstown view: snowy peaks and autumn colour beside the lake. Not a bad way to greet a new day, and an interesting second conference day. 

The Summerfruit NZ AGM opened with a surprise announcement from Chairman Tim Jones. After legal advice overnight the Board decided it had no option but to delay the AGM ‘to ensure fairness and correct procedure’. While in the past a show of hands vote was accepted, the issues were significant, so it was decided to proceed under Rule 7.7A of the Constitution, with grower votes based on ‘one vote for every hectare or part thereof of land’. 

The AGM is now being held on 5 August 2019, within 12 months of the previous balance date as required, to allow time for growers to provide verifiable information on their planting. 

Attention turned to the R&D section of the conference, with several technical research results of direct relevance to growers. 

David Pattemore of Plant & Food Research investigated cherry pollination in Central Otago, to help growers better understand pollination and achieve more consistent results. This followed up 2017 research. Honey bees, silvereyes and (potentially) bumblebees provide an all-round pollination service. 

Initial results show that honey bees were the most common visitors; visitation increased with temperature and fruit set was correlated with bee activity at warm temperatures. There was
no detected link between temperature and fruit set from hand cross. The study recommended that higher densities of stronger hives industry-wide will increase bee visit rates and therefore
fruit set. 

Fruit set and temperature need to be investigated over a wider temperature range. 

The fumigant Vapormate was tested by Kate Colhoun and her Plant & Food Research team as a post harvest disinfestation for apricots, especially for New Zealand Flower Thrips. This is
timely with Summerfruit NZ’s goal of more than doubling apricot exports to Australia, our largest apricot market. 

With the current control increasingly unacceptable in key markets, the industry needs a sustainable post harvest disinfestation method for residue-free fruit without environmental or consumer health issues. Vapormate (ethyl formate and CO2) is a Generally Recognised as Safe product, ie safe for food. The research project aimed to ensure Vapormate met phytosanitary requirements of importing countries, maintained fruit quality and reduced pre harvest pesticide use. 

After extensive testing, Vapormate demonstrated no commercially significant quality issues, being effective on thrips, mobile lifestages of mealybugs and some mites. It’s an accepted and useful tool to help ensure pest-free fruit for the Australian market. 

Market access manager Stephen Ogden advised that after years of preparation, summerfruit is ready for life after OPI access to Australia, which concludes in December 2019. A comprehensive programme including extensive planning with Australian officials, a ‘robust spray programme’ of grower best practice, supported by Vapormate trials showing high efficacy
with thrips (the biggest issue) will take its place. Irradiation backup is not yet available. 

He cautioned there may be potential delays at the Australian border with inspection bottlenecks and delays of possibly up to 29 three days, although usually pest identification is available same day. Hard-to-identify weed seeds may be a problem. 

Recommending growers check the Summerfruit NZ portal for grower best practice information and recommendations, he suggested using Vapormate in pre-packing, as four packhouses doing so last year had good results, and keep communicating. If in doubt, please contact Stephen or MPI, and persevere. 

Phil Elmer (Plant & Food Research) reported on a three-year programme to investigate if modified Summerfruit NZ-SFF spray programmes for resistance management worked better than conventional spray programmes in three selected export cherry orchards. 

Describing it as ‘fungicide resistance 101’ he said botrytis was a highly adaptable pathogen. He detailed the comprehensive programme to identify resistance management, find the source and find new protectants. 

The project identified several orchard management recommendations (‘more cultural controls, fewer sprays’) and the most robust solutions will be followed up. Several products with moderate to very good efficacy against botrytis were identified, none currently registered for use with cherries. Plant & Food Research has established a new BioProtection block at Clyde Research Centre to assist the registration process. 

Virginia Marroni (Plant & Food Research) spoke about her three-year PhD research programme Managing Pathogen Resistance in Summerfruit, focusing on the high incidence and possible control of cankers, identified at high levels with more than half the cherry trees replaced within four years. 

Finding that most cankers faced NE was ‘getting interesting’. Forensic plant pathology indicated damage like sunscald seen in high latitude snowy conditions. Environmental causes including heat, cold and wounds were investigated, and trials tested trunk protection. 

While final conclusions have not been drawn, the hypothesis of environmental damage is still under scrutiny and trunk protection looks promising, and needs further investigation. 

The huge yet achievable challenge of a landfill-free horticulture industry was put by Peter Mortimer (Fruitfed Supplies), saying dynamic change is globally driven. It’s possible: DuPont reduced 81 million tonnes of waste in 2008 to zero in 2011 through recycling and re-using. 

Fruitfed is working with wine companies committed to zero waste – Pernod Ricard by 2020 and Villa Maria by 2025, and aiming for GFSI and BRC global standards accreditation, which covers its suppliers too. 

‘Identify, segregate and re-use’ principle examples include winery water treatment plants producing drinkable water, shrinkwrap recycled into slipsheets, recovering agri-chemicals from pruning paint, not accepting non-recyclable materials, analysis of rubbish to identify waste streams and potential fixes, weighing packaging to measure reductions, switch packaging now in 5kg recycled containers, and more. 

AgRecovery provides free recycling for plastic containers from over 3,000 of the most common ag-products sold in New Zealand – there is simply no excuse to burn or dump them. 

‘We have come a long way, and are all masters of our own destiny. Think of the backpackers running through our businesses, and what they say about us when they get home,’ he reminded us. 

Rachel McClung (Horticulture NZ) captured everyone’s attention with images of disgraced Australian cricketers to make her point about what happens when some people don’t play by the rules. What happens if the authorities or public find out? There are consequences. This also applies to horticulture – about the right to farm, about the social licence.

The right to farm is the ability to continue a lawfully established farming activity. Social licence is the community’s perception of the acceptability of the operation, influenced by experience and perceptions. Think frost fans, bird scarers, spray drift … and complaints to councils, papers and social media about disruption and inconvenience for non-farming residents. It can go bad quickly. 

Where speakers made their presentations available, they have been uploaded to the Summerfruit NZ portal under Main Menu/Conference/2019 Speaker presentations.