Sustaining our industry in the year ahead

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By Gemma Carroll, PNZ Communications and Extension Officer

Sheffield, Canterbury.

The New Zealand potato industry continues to provide a high quality, staple food for domestic and export markets. In support of that, the team at Potatoes New Zealand (PNZ) is finalising our plan for the year ahead, based on a sustainability strategy and a new framework for research and extension.

PNZ’s sustainability focus

Global and domestic consumer demands fuel the pace of change, including regulation. Consumers want to know the provenance of their food, and they want growers to show transparency in their growing methods and be upfront about environmental impact.

Though challenging, this is an exciting time for our industry. We already have high quality standards and a low environmental impact, compared to many other staple foods and vegetables.

Being explicit about our strengths as an industry could mean greater market opportunities for growers. It could also allow us to succeed in the face of changing consumer expectations.

There are two major sustainability programmes underway, of which PNZ is very proud.

As an industry we need to be thinking more critically and collaboratively about pests, diseases and environmental management.

The Sustainable Vegetable Systems Project addresses inaccuracies in previous nitrate leaching models for vegetable crops. It is hoped the outcomes from this $7.5m, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) co-funded project, will be measurable positive impacts on both environmental (water quality and emissions) and business bottom lines. Overall, PNZ wants to see more sustainable economic and environmental outcomes for growers.

The Canterbury Potato Liberibacter Initiative is a grower and processor, special-levy-funded, multi-project programme, addressing the ongoing challenge of psyllid and liberibacter damage to plants and tubers, especially in the processing sector. Although Canterbury based, the project’s findings will be shared with the whole industry, as psyllid populations can affect any of our growing regions. The project is another example of collaboration in our industry and what can be achieved with team effort. Overall, this initiative addresses sustainable quality through pest and disease management.

PNZ is also exploring new directions in regenerative agriculture, and partnering with iwi and incorporating mātauranga Māori in our research projects. Our industry can support Māori agribusiness and help build capability, leadership and social sustainability, while establishing a connected approach to potato production and food systems.

Strategy and business plan

The revised PNZ strategy and annual business plan will be shared in April this year.

We’re also encouraging growers to start thinking about how to adapt growing systems to capitalise on consumer trends, in areas such as decarbonisation and emissions reductions. We look forward to sharing grower stories about this journey in 2022. 

The silver lining in the Covid pandemic for PNZ has been a chance to prioritise our activities, based on the economic, environmental and social pillars of sustainability, informed by grower insights, technical advisory panels and strong governance.

PNZ chief executive officer, Chris Claridge encourages the team and industry to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to “stay focused on our prioritised goals, not be distracted by the ‘white noise’ around us and take time out as needed”. PNZ’s overarching vision is a secure and sustainable future for our industry. This includes sustainable teamwork during crises.

The pandemic, on top of regulatory changes and climate adaption, feels like a pressure cooker but has also demonstrated what we can do at capacity, however, there are limits to enduring emergencies and crises.

When things start boiling, then simmer down.

Phrases such as ‘adjusting to the new normal’ are no longer helpful, because the ‘new normal’ is ever changing. What we need to do is become comfortable with uncertainty, know our limits and know when to tap out for a rest. PNZ encourages growers, their families and staff to support each other in sharing their stress levels and allowing time out as needed.

An example of how we do this in the PNZ team is allowing 5-10 minutes at the start any meeting for each attendee to rate their stress on a 1-10 scale and disclose any story about that stress if they want to. It’s becoming easier with repeated practice and can even be funny and light-hearted at times. We have found that disclosing our stressors builds trust and resilience.

We encourage growers to reach out to us for support at any time on 0800 399 674.

We also encourage growers to check our Covid page for advice, including the latest on RATs testing, the farm template for planning during a pandemic, links to employer support and the Close Contact Exemption Scheme for Critical Services Register: