Part of my job is to be a salesman for the Bay. We have a positive story to tell about our regional economy. But how do you break that down into real and tangible examples about the achievements we can be proud of?
First of all – the economic nuts and bolts. The ASB Bank's Regional Scoreboard in March found Hawke's Bay was the top performing region across the country. "The sunny Hawke's Bay shines brightest" it proclaimed.
We all know this. But I wanted to amp that up in the corridors of power. What better opportunity than a special promotional dinner last week at the formal restaurant in the Beehive, Bellamy's. I was asked by the chef to introduce the evening, a celebration of Hawke's Bay producers. I've reproduced a shortened version of my speech in this article.
Hawke's Bay's best-known food product was not on the menu. Watties tomato sauce is probably in the pantry or fridge of just about every household. Watties is a great example of the changing history of food production in Hawke's Bay, and the transition from bulk to boutique; from volume to value.
But in fact Maori, in this case Ngati Kahungunu, are credited with being some of the first in Hawke's Bay to grow fruit for domestic household consumption. There are reports that the first peach trees were planted around 200 years ago by Maori, from the stones or pits obtained from early European traders.
Home gardens thrived. Once commercial orchards and fields began producing fruit and vegetables in bulk in the 1890s, Hawke's Bay's reputation for horticulture was set.
The first commercial canning factory opened in Hastings in 1904, and Watties was established thirty years later. Grapes and wine have been produced in bulk as a
consequence of the Marists first plantings in 1851 at Mission Estate. Te Mata and Vidal also have a history more than a century old.
Like the fruit and vegetables canned and frozen by Watties, wine was a bulk product till the 1970s.The boutique and smaller-scale wine producers have only begun to be noticed in the past thirty to forty years.
Sheep has also been a story of volume production. It is hard to imagine the sight of the first sheep to arrive in Hawke's Bay – when a mob of 3,000 merino was mustered through the bush from the Wairarapa in 1849.
By the 1960s, sheep farming in Hawke's Bay was massive. It's believed the stockyards at Waipukurau hold the New Zealand record for the most sheep held in one place, when the ewe fair in 1969 offered 62,000 sheep for sale.
Fast forward a century from those first merino, and the freezing works and canning factories of Hawke's Bay brought real cultural and social change to the area.
It's estimated that 60 percent of workers in the Watties factory after World War Two were Maori who had moved from rural areas. Seasonal work also meant new job opportunities for women, outside the home.
With around 5,000 hectares of grapes, we are number two of the winemaking regions. An astonishing 70 percent of land area is grassland. Clearly, Hawke's Bay has been, and remains, a volume producer of food and beverages.
But the future lies in value, and we all know that.
Once the big freezing works started to close thirty years ago, first Whakatu, then Tomoana and more recently Oringi, it was clear that value-add and innovation is what will keep this region and its people thriving.
Modern consumers want to know that environmental factors and labour conditions for workers are valued by food producers. Issues like sustainability and traceability are important.
Our local honey producers like Arataki can offer 'hive to honey' traceability of their product. Pollination services are also vital to the horticultural industry.
Bostock Chicken grew out of an apple orchard. Paynters Cider emerged from five generations of pipefruit growers. Waipawa Butchery offers products much sought
after in the top restaurants. Origin Earth is trying new ways to reduce the plastic packaging for its milk and yoghurt and cheese.
There were other producers represented at the Parliamentary dinner, who aim at the high end of the market, the chefs and restaurants, not at the bulk volume outlets.
The products are sold at farmers' markets, pop-up stores, and farm gates. Many products are GM-free, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free. Many are certified organic, and free range.
Their local stories are what gives them value. For a region where the land was terribly broken in 1931, it is the land and the way we live on the land that gives us our advantage.
*Stuart Nash is Napier MP and Minister of Police, Revenue, Fisheries and Small Business