The economic effects of Covid-19 and New Zealand's subsequent nationwide lockdown have been felt far and wide by our business community. Journalist Stephanie Arthur-Worsop asks NZ Avocado chief executive Jen Scoular to reflect on her company's survival and what she thinks needs to be done to help the local economy bounce back.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your company?
Avocado production was an essential industry, so we needed to very quickly develop and adopt protocols to continue the harvest, packing and logistics to ensure our workers were safe within the Covid-19 environment.
With no food-service or independent fruit and vegetable stores, demand was significantly reduced, which affected growers.
We deemed some on-orchard activity as essential but less essential activity was also delayed, which we will catch up with over the next few months.
What are you doing to ensure the company survives the pandemic and/or thrives after it?
There is a lot of conversation about how we can turn challenges into opportunities. The ability of the kiwifruit industry to continue hard and fast through this crisis was impressive and many kiwifruit packhouses also pack avocados, so they will have learnings from the crisis.
The horticulture sectors implemented a daily call to share issues and ideas, and invited government officials along to those calls so we were able to improve communication.
That same group met recently to develop a horticulture strategy to better enable New Zealand to recover from this unprecedented event.
As the avocado industry association, we all worked very productively from home, made great use of Zoom, and those with kids to parent, managed admirably with those additional challenges.
What are the benefits and challenges of running a business in the Bay of Plenty?
The Bay of Plenty is a great place to run a high-value, export-focused business. The continued growth of the Port of Tauranga and the horticulture industry demonstrates the scale of the opportunity for export businesses in this region.
The port provides unparalleled access to international markets, and our location, just an hour west of Hamilton and two and a half hours south of Auckland, gives us effective access to national markets.
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The Bay of Plenty has excellent business networks that are open to innovation and collaboration. The establishment of PlantTech to help accelerate technology-based innovation in the horticulture sector is a great example of this and that is recognised by central government with $8.4 million of investment.
Attracting skilled and qualified people to work in the region is more challenging than it should be. We have opportunities for work in the horticulture sector, an economy that is proving to be resilient during this challenging time, plus an amazing natural playground on our doorstep.
What do you believe should happen to revitalise and rebuild the local/regional economy?
Transport infrastructure within the region has not kept pace with population and economic growth. The Port of Tauranga is a critical hub for our export economy but we must improve access to it without causing disruption to other parts of our economy.
We need to be able to move goods into and around our city more efficiently and improve the peak-hour travel time to improve residents' quality of life and the way they feel about living in this great region.
We need to continue to invest in upskilling our people. The development of the University of Waikato Tauranga campus offers world-class university study within our region.
Businesses will need to invest in innovation to survive in our rapidly changing national and global economy. Highly skilled, creative and strategic thinkers will help enable that innovation.
Horticulture is perfectly positioned to help lead New Zealand out of Covid-19, we need passionate and energetic people to help spearhead the recovery.
There is no better time to look to the horticulture sector for a new role or new direction. Across industries like avocado, there is a range of roles in orchards, packhouses, exporters, or the industry body, ranging from scientists and analysts, to experts in global marketing. The opportunities are endless.