How A Lighter
Touch started

In 2015 some of New Zealand’s horticultural crop groups realised they had a problem. Many of the crop protection products they depended on were being phased out and new products were not readily available. This was making the production of high quality fruit and vegetables more challenging. On a global scale, the New Zealand market for crop protection products is small, and many fruit and vegetable crops grown in New Zealand are produced in small volumes. In many situations, the business case for registering products for use on these “minor crops” didn’t stack up.

Concerns were also growing that a limited suite of crop protection products was increasing the risk that pests and diseases might develop resistance to available products. Many crop groups were proactive in funding research and working with crop protection companies, but there didn’t appear to be a long-term solution to the lack of ‘minor use’ registrations.

At the same time there was growing awareness that consumers are increasingly asking for food that is as free from chemical residues as possible, is grown sustainably, and is ethically produced. They are willing to pay a premium for this. To take advantage of this opportunity, a step-change in the industry’s approach to crop production needs to occur.

What arose was the realisation of an opportunity to collaborate across the horticulture, arable and wine sectors to meet changing consumer preferences and to solve the problem of access to crop protection products by changing the approach to crop protection. What has resulted is ‘A Lighter Touch: Agroecological crop protection to meet future consumer demands’.

Current situation

The plant-based food sector, incorporating horticulture, arable cropping, and wine production, generates over $8 billion annually. New Zealand horticulture is valued at over $6 billion, with $3.4 billion in exports, produced by 6000 commercial fruit and vegetable growers. The arable industry contributes $1.4 billion to the economy from domestically consumed grain and food crops, and seed exports. The wine industry produces $1.9 billion of wine for domestic and export sale, with all but $54 million exported.

Opportunities

A unique opportunity has opened up for New Zealand to become the world’s preferred supplier of plant-based food products. Brand, reputation and provenance of food are now important to consumers. To take advantage of this rapidly emerging market, and protect the reputation of New Zealand food, the plant-based food sector has come together to change its approach to crop production.

Challenges

The transition to agroecology is a long-term process. New Zealand has other challenges – lack of scale, the idea that it’s difficult to transition from traditional to agroecological crop protection, few drivers for change, lack of industry and market pull, and a lack of proof of concept, as well as the pressures of producing crops efficiently, economically and meeting importing country biosecurity requirements.

Solution

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Programme will bring together the horticulture, wine and arable sectors to collectively address the challenge of meeting consumer demands and the transition to agroecological crop protection programmes. Government investment through this programme will enable major challenges to be addressed, and for the co-investor group to achieve the scale and cohesion to operate on a whole of industry basis. The programme provides the stepping-stone to the longer term strategic move to a less chemical dependent future. This industry-wide programme presents a level of collaboration, knowledge sharing and funding never before seen in New Zealand.