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Growers to vote on industry body’s future

Wairarapa fruit and vegetable growers are getting a say in a referendum about whether the work of a nationwide horticulture representative body should continue.

Horticulture New Zealand [HortNZ] is an advocacy group for the interests of NZ’s more than 4200 commercial fruit and vegetable growers and is holding a vote on continuing the current levy on growers that allows the organisation to do its work.

HortNZ has proposed continuing to collect a maximum of 15 cents per $100 on the sale of New Zealand-grown fruit and vegetables.

Its revenue in the last financial period was $12.1 million while its deficit was about $87,000; the previous year saw it collect $12.9 million in revenue, with a surplus of $1.3 million.

Masterton-based Four Corners Organics and Hydroponics grower Jos Paans believes commercial growers – no matter if they are organic or conventional – “should” pay the levy.

“It’s good that there is a central voice in government,” he said.

“The big drawback for us … Is that we are a very small horticultural region, so it’s rare for them to specifically do anything for the Wairarapa.”

Masterton-based Te Manaia Organics owner Jeremy Howden said he will vote “yes” in the referendum because he recognises the organisation’s importance in advancing grower interests.

HortNZ has been active on issues such as employment law, migrant workers’ rights, irrigation, and chemical use, Howden said.

“I disagree with some of the things that they do – like they want to allow genetically modified organisms in the environment and things like that – but they are a platform for opposing points of view, and I’ve seen an organic grower quite recently advocating for keeping the status quo with the GM scenario, and I thought, ‘Good on you, Horticulture NZ’.”

A HortNZ spokesperson told the Times-Age that it submitted to the Wairarapa Combined District Plan with a focus on ensuring appropriate rules for seasonal worker accommodation, frost fans, and horticultural structures.

“We also sought changes relating to highly productive land and reverse sensitivity concerns to create settings where horticulture can thrive in the Wairarapa,” the spokesperson said.

“We will be participating in hearings on the plan beginning in August.”

HortNZ’s policy team also visited growers in Wairarapa in March this year and November last year and heard their concerns about logistics costs, water access, and biosecurity.

HortNZ president Barry O’Neil has encouraged growers to vote and share their opinions on the organisation’s work on behalf of commercial growers.

“Running a horticulture business in New Zealand is often a 24/7 job,” O’Neil said.

“However, we’re asking growers to take a moment from their busy schedule to vote in the referendum.

“Without the levy, the organisation will be wound up, and there will be no strong voice in our sector.”

HortNZ chief executive Nadine Tunley said the levies are used for a wide variety of programmes including policy, advocacy, and labour and capability development – “All things that have a strong focus on enabling the production of fruit and vegetables,” she said.

“Feedback during the roadshows reinforced to us that growers have the same top priorities as HortNZ – water, climate change and adaptation, and food security and supply.

“We also strongly heard the need for less duplication across different product groups and more focus on the strength of a united voice for all of horticulture.”

A renewed levy would apply for six years from the expiry of the current levy order in March 2025.

    Growers can vote online or by mail until June 14.

    More information is available at hortnz.co.nz

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