No biosecurity fall, Minister promises Fieldays

By Ben Chapman-Smith

At least 120,000 visitors are expected at the annual Fieldays at Mystery Creek Events Centre, Hamilton. File photo / Christine Cornege.
At least 120,000 visitors are expected at the annual Fieldays at Mystery Creek Events Centre, Hamilton. File photo / Christine Cornege.

Agri-business leaders kicked off the Fieldays this morning by discussing big challenges facing the agriculture sector, such as biosecurity, better industry collaboration and retaining young talent.

Minister for Primary Industries David Carter, Fonterra chairman Henry van der Heyden, and Landcorp chief executive Chris Kelly spoke at a leaders breakfast, before answering questions on the main obstacles to growth in our primary sector.

Carter said he was "not the least bit surprised" that biosecurity was the number one concern for leaders in the industry, as 175,000 items crossed New Zealand's bordera every day.

Event host KPMG recently surveyed 98 agri-business leaders and found the fear of our borders being breached was the highest ranking priority.

Carter disputed criticism that reforms to the Biosecurity Act had been purely about saving money.

"I can give you an absolute assurance that on my watch, there will be no lowering of priority on biosecurity.

"New Zealand's Government can't do this on its own and we'll get better outcomes by working with the industry."

Another key issue was the need for better pan-industry collaboration in order for New Zealand to retain it place internationally as a top agricultural producer.

New Zealand's small size means all the different parts of the sector must be communicating to form a collective voice, said van der Heyden.

"We need a vision of very clear strategy and we need to be working together."

Leaders agreed that public concern about issues like milk prices and water contamination from farms meant the sector needed to be doing better at collectively selling itself to urban New Zealand.

"We have got to be confident about our own industry to tell urban New Zealand the benefits we offer," said Carter.

Van der Heyden said more leaders had to put their foot on the accelerator to sell the industry as having vital economic benefits to all Kiwis.

"It's bloody hard for a few people on a podium to keep trying to tell the country what benefits we offer," he said

Retaining young talent in the primary sector was another hot topic.

There is no doubt that one of the key considerations to growing the industry is more talent, said Kelly.

"In my opinion, there is a market failure. Current training requires us to do a lot of our training in house," he said.

"The more we can train our people the better and faster our ship can go. New Zealand needs more people who are being trained to work in the primary sector."

Other points of discussion were innovation spending, water and rural broadband.

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