Storm-battered start to the year

We have begun 2023 with a devastating series of events directly attributable to climate change. The loss of life, damage to infrastructure and severe impact on agriculture and horticulture are still being assessed as I write. As the climate changes, the frequency with which tropical storms move south, and extreme wind and rain damage, is expected to increase; and with sea levels rising, damage to our coastal cities is inevitably going to increase too. Our heartfelt sympathy goes to the devastated communities: but also to those businesses and research centres located in the midst of the severely flooded areas.
The next issue of AgScience will provide an account of presentations to the NZIAHS Canterbury Forum in October last year which addressed the question: Can New Zealand farmers mitigate climate change?
But while the government, armed forces and local authorities are helping the victims of the floods, some good news has come my way. Among the glad tidings was the news of one of our members receiving an International Society for Horticultural Science Award.  Read More

Science and government 

The new Prime Minister’s Cabinet reshuffle did not result in a change of Minister in the science portfolio. Dr Ayesha Verrall retains the Research, Science and Innovation portfolio but was also given the challenging Health portfolio.
While the Minister has not changed, big changes are portended for our major science institutions. Political commentator Richard Harman has reported that as Minister in charge of the White Paper, Te Ara Paerangi, Future Pathways, Dr Verrall, is proposing the most radical shakeup of the science sector since National established the Crown Research Institutes and introduced competitive bidding for science funding in 1992.
He has written:
“Her thinking about how the paper may be implemented goes much further than simply the research institutes. She is questioning the role of the Performance Based Research Funding formula for Universities which places a huge weight on short-term outcomes like published research papers or degree completions. And she is looking at immigration policy to see how the country could attract more high-level international scientists.
“But fundamental to what is being proposed will be the drawing up next year of a set of National Research priorities. The priorities will set over-arching goals, which will be backed up by other changes to make the whole sector, from business to the institutes to universities, work more collaboratively together.”
Dr Verrall told POLITIK:
“Enabling people to work more collaboratively is a real focus of the reforms and the setting of priorities as a big part of the solution to that.
“Intentional funding of priorities allows funding to be allocated across what we call the pathway to commercialisation or the pathway to impact.“
The existing excellence-based competitive funds like the Marsden Fund would still have a place, according to the POLITIK report, but by a set of priorities to encourage a more mission-led approach.
Dr Verrall argues that by adopting a more long-term focus rather than requiring almost immediate results and by focusing on a mission outcome rather than specific research projects, the system should work together as she has already found it can in countries like Singapore or Finland.

Government and horticulture

What the Beehive has announced early in the new year is a new Government and industry strategy launched this month and aimed at growing the value of New Zealand’s horticultural production to $12 billion by 2035.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said primary sector export revenue since 2017 has grown by 39 per cent to a record $53 billion last year, with horticulture contributing $6.7 billion. This year horticulture exports are expected to top a record $7.1 billion.

The new Horticulture – Growing Together 2035 – Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan Strategy sets out the pathway to achieve what Mr O’Connor described as an ambitious and achievable goal.
The Growing Together 2035 Strategy’s vision is that ‘Aotearoa New Zealand is synonymous with world-leading healthy produce, which is grown with care for people and place, and is enjoyed by consumers around the world.’
The Strategy focuses on five outcomes:

  • Grow sustainably
  • Optimise value
  • Māori are strong in horticulture
  • Action underpinned by science and knowledge
  • Nurture people.

Horticulture New Zealand Chief Executive Nadine Tunley said the Growing Together 2035 Strategy deliberately focuses on outcomes and actions across the value chain where partners can collaborate to generate the most benefits.
The Plan’s outcomes are supported by a series of actions that will work together to grow the overall sustainability and value of Aotearoa’s horticulture sector, she said.
The actions range from identifying energy-intensive areas of the horticulture value chain and supporting conversion to systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to improving crop management and protection, developing pathways to increase Māori participation, increasing capability; and better understanding consumer needs and channels to market.
You can click here to read the plan.

Food and Beverage Industry Transformation

In addition, our agricultural and horticultural sectors directly contribute to New Zealand’s food and beverage industry: which has also just seen the release of the Food and Beverage Industry Transformation Plan open for consultation until 5 March 2023. Four major transformations are envisaged and our science effort is strongly focussed in Transformations 2 and 3: loosely, innovation; and capability building.

So we have plenty of work to do from a policy perspective; but I also applaud those of you who will be directly involved in mitigating the harm from this year’s stormy start in terms of its impact on agriculture and horticulture. Please do share with your Council your stories of how science can assist in resilience and recovery.

And a reminder
Plant Science Central is being held from
4-6 July 2023 in Palmerston North.
If you are engaged in any aspect of plant science,
please mark those dates
and watch for the call for abstracts! 

Save the Date

2023 Plant Science Central Conference
“Plants for Life”
4-6 July 2023

Ag/Hort Lecture Block
Massey University
Palmerston North