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Protected cropping in New Zealand has a big future, it will have a key role in food security and export opportunities.
Plant & Food Research and Callaghan Innovation recently held a Controlled Environment Summit in Hamilton. It was the first summit organised by these Crown entities. I attended the second day and was impressed with the quality of the speakers and the mix of suppliers, growers, scientists, and Government representation that were in the room together. I am myself a vocal supporter of protected cropping, as you would know if you read my articles, so it was great to meet like minded people that shared a similar vision.
Paul Gautier, Professor of Protected Cropping at Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) presentation was excellent. One of the key messages was that whether it is factory or greenhouse horticulture it is still farming – “It’s about farming, it is hard, that’s the end of it” crops are still growing and need attention. Another of the key points from Paul’s presentation that I strongly agree with is the importance of sharing information, “Share knowledge so you don’t make mistakes, science is there to share.”
The key points I noted from Pauls talk:
- Target Research Investment.
- Co-ordinated R & D (don’t spend all your time researching only to realise in practice it doesn’t work).
- Enhance Public-Private Partnerships.
- Define critical research areas.
- Local supply chains are important for success.
- Talk about what works not what doesn’t work.
- Stop reinventing the wheel.
Brigit Corson, Head of Produce and Butchery at Foodstuffs North Island Limited, was asked to talk about ‘what consumers want’ – and what they want is something that is tasty and can satisfy the entire family. Research has indicated, due to various dietary requirements, preparing one meal for the entire family is not as common as it once was.
The key points I noted from Brigit’s talk:
- Inflation is changing the way consumers shop – looking for in season cheaper produce.
- Customers visit stores an average 2.6 times per week.
- Consumers want something that tastes great.
- The family meal table has changed, individuals are more conscious of what they are eating.
- The importance and advantages of consistent supply
Interestingly it was discussed that even though consumers are conscious about sustainability that ‘sustainability’ cannot cost more. Consumers will still purchase on price!
Other discussions and topics discussed at the Summit:
- Investment landscape of controlled environments
- De carbonisation
- Keeping the sector connected
Other key messages noted from the summit included:
- Vertical farming has seen a surge in popularity in recent years but due to energy requirements it may not be suited or economical for many crops currently. The certainty of greenhouse production is proven and still regarded a particularly worthwhile investment in the right locations.
- Growing hubs and specific location are becoming increasingly important.
- Protected cropping offers sustainability and food security.
- Employment opportunities – great environments to work in
- The longer a product can be stored the less need for protected cropping.
- Robotics and automation will play a huge role in the future.
- Be close to a market if you have a perishable product.
- Protected cropping offers insurance against an increase in weather events.
Thanks to Plant & Food Research and Callaghan Innovation for hosting this summit. If you are interested in more events held by these organisations click on the links below:
Cover image, Professor Paul PG Gauthier from the University of Queensland
Article written and compiled by Stefan Vogrincic
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