The first comprehensive directory for the New Zealand Horticultural Industry

Head in the Sand Approach To Feeding Auckland

pants_compressedThe debate about Auckland’s housing debacle took a new turn this week. The answer now appears to be to remove the urban/rural town planning boundaries and follow the guidelines established in the Wild West. In other words  - none!

Well, I have two problems with that. Firstly, there is a famous quote around, which I can subscribe to wholeheartedly – “we don’t need to build housing, we need to build communities”.  I do not see any evidence that building communities is even a consideration.

Secondly, if we remove the urban/rural boundaries and just start building all over the place, we will wake up one day and will have built dwellings on the most fertile soils in the country. Pukekohe comes to mind. What are we going to eat, pray tell? We can’t just stick our head in the sand and pretend this is not happening. Auckland has an unfortunate history in covering up the land, which feeds its citizens, with houses – and  judging by some of the comments made by certain politicians this week, we are about to do it all over again.

The history of market gardening in Auckland is well documented.  As the city has grown, market garden areas were pushed out.  At the turn of the 20th century, Auckland’s market gardens were clustered around the area occupied today by the Ellerslie racecourse.  By the end of World War II, the vegetable growing focus had shifted to Mangere  - now the site of a sprawling South Auckland suburb and Auckland Airport.  Today, vegetable production centers around Pukekohe.  And whilst some crop production, in the case of potatoes and onions for example, has already moved further down country to Matamata, it just would not be possible to shift Pukekohe’s entire vegetable production simply elsewhere.  Horticulture New Zealand’s recent press release on the matter says it all.

Hall of Mental Cultivation

may-july2011 293Translating a pertinent phrase from one language to another is always accompanied by challenges! This sign I saw in the forbidden city in Bejing a few years back though, is one of the better examples and has left a lasting impression with me. “Hall of Mental Cultivation” has a beautiful ring to it. ‘Hall’ – not room or closet or corner but ‘hall’, which immediately conjures up for me a wide and roomy space, yet defined because a ‘hall’ provides warmth and comfort. ‘Cultivation’ takes me down the process road as opposed to the ‘want it now’ attitude, and as a former nurseryman I can relate to ‘cultivation’ just like any fruit or vegetable grower. ‘Cultivation’ talks of effort, of skill and of patience. None of that instant gratification nonsense we are exposed to so often these days.  We could all probably do with at least a virtual version of our very own Hall of Mental Cultivation to keep us on the straight and narrow as the pace of change and the speed at which business is conducted is increasing.

Jugaad – the Indian version of the Kiwi No 8 Wire Mentality

BBQ - Jugaad Style

BBQ – Jugaad Style

Kiwis pride themselves on their No 8 wire mentality. Te Ara – the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand describes this phenomenon thus:”The tradition of Kiwi ingenuity is often known as the ‘no. 8 wire’ attitude, a reference to a gauge of fencing wire that has been adapted for countless other uses in New Zealand farms, factories and homes.” It seems we are not the only people with a sense for unconventional solutions. A little while ago I commended one of our team members on her ability to come up with innovative work place solutions. Her response was: “Hans, where I come from the whole country is a master of innovation – and improvisation. We call it Jugaad.”

Well, the country in question is India and the photo on this page is probably one of the more graphic examples of how our Indian friends go about finding solutions to problems. A quick search of Google Scholar produces 691 results for Jugaad management. Jugaad holds the same fascination for me as the Dabbawala concept, which is all about lunch boxes in Mumbai finding their way without apparent rhyme or reason from suburban kitchens to their recipients and back again, at an error rate of 1 per 16 million end deliveries. The Six Sigma Dabbawala clip on YouTube will explain more.

Where he is going with this, you may ask. Well, our government seems to be very keen to conclude a Free Trade Agreement with India and direct travel between New Zealand and India appears to be just around the corner. I just cannot understand why the Indian Government Minister signing that air services agreement recently was their Minister of Agriculture. Either another example of Jugaad or it is a subtle way of telling us to expect a whole lot more produce hopping onto those planes and coming here.

How NOT To Display Bananas

Aussie Bananas - Eye CandyI would hope that we at least could all agree on this – how NOT to display bananas. I took that photo a few years back at at the Victoria Market in Melbourne – and it was pretty clear that our Australian cousins were in ‘ample supply mode’ at the time.  That did not last for long. The Aussie banana supply situation fluctuates between ‘feast’ and ‘famine’ with regular monotony.

I guess the other thing all New Zealand banana merchants can agree on is that Australia is not New Zealand, particularly when it comes to bananas. For one, New Zealand is an open market whereas our West Island does not allow foreign bananas into the country. Then there is the fact that our bananas need to come by boat, regardless of whether they travel from Ecuador, Panama, the Philippines or elsewhere. Bananas for sale in Melbourne and Sydney come from ‘up the road’. Granted, it is a long road from Northern Queensland but it sure does not involve ports, ships, exchange rates or global brands with a mind of their own.

Regardless of all these facts though, a stable banana supply makes for a settled produce wholesale business. In New Zealand, in Australia and elsewhere. An unsettled banana supply situation causes grief. The nuances might vary from country to country but the net effect is always the same. And the state of the banana displays in our retail stores suggests to me that our banana supply situation is not as stable and/or balanced right now than it could be.

Would anyone care to comment on that?

Produce & Digital Technology

speaking at rotterdam15December 2015 had me presenting to an international fresh produce audience  at the 2nd EU Fresh Info Forum in Rotterdam.  The event was organised by Frug I Com, the Dutch produce industry body for electronic messaging and coding standards and co-hosted with GS1 and IFPS, the International Federation for Produce Standards.   Anyone interested in a summary of the event, can find this here.

Following the event, Frug I Com and its sister organisation, Fresh Information Management Centre BV, produced a white paper  which can be found at  Internet-of-Veggies, Horticulture in the Digital World.

The big learning for us here at The AgriChain Centre has been the realisation that even the smartest minds struggle at times comprehending that the way business is conducted can change, will change and needs to change because the availability of new technologies not only makes change possible but, in many cases, compelling to the extent that without timely and strategy driven change being embraced, the biggest change of all may well occur – a business that cannot at the very least adapt to change will sooner or later cease to exist.

Now more so than ever, horticultural and produce industry leaders owe it to their organisations to cultivate a questioning mind, particularly with a firm focus on the potential impact generated by emerging technologies.

This process is most certainly in full swing around here, particularly since The AgriChain Centre became an Independent Verification Agency (IVA) for the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries last year.

So – what is going to happen in your business when you ask these questions:

“How could I improve my customer service delivery through smarter use of digital technology?”

“What business activities can I add to my existing ones, if I were to introduce smart technology?”

“How will my industry look like in five years time and what are the big data based opportunity for my business in that new landscape?”

The first two questions are very much incremental.  There are a good way to start building on today – the platform and environment you are familiar with.  The third question challenges the fundamental.  It assumes the industry will change and questions whether there is still a place for your business on the future strategic canvas.  Not for the faint hearted, but an essential question to ask for all serial value -adders.