Archive for August, 2013

How To Defend Yourself Against A Fresh Fruit Attack…

John Cleese

John Cleese

People of my generation and in possession of a certain sense of humour will recognise the title of this entry straight away. The rest of you who were either born after 1970 or have yet to be exposed to Monty Python style humour which I freely admit is excentric to say the least, don’t know what you are missing. Be that as it may, I was working on our company’s social media strategy earlier this week, when I came across an article entitled “Instagram under attack from fruit wielding spammers”. Naturally, John Cleese and his merry band of men immediately came to mind. Hadn’t anyone at Instagram heard about how to respond when being attacked by a piece of fruit? So I went looking on YouTube and sure enough, I was able to locate  the memorable Monty Python clip without trouble. A great Friday afternoon pick-me-up, I suggest, as you prepare for the weekend.

On a more serious note, fruit can actually ‘attack’ you. Have a look at this article when you get a chance.  It describes how organic berryfruit was linked to a Hepatitis A outbreak in the USA last year, impacting on 49 people across 7 states and hospitalising 11.

“Fruit attacks” are entirely plausible. It is just highly unlikely that the attack will follow the Monty Python route. The opposite will be the case.  Silent and without much ado. If you want to see how John Cleese dealt with the fruit attacks, please watch the video clip.  To reduce your exposure to the more silent approach, I would suggest you revisit  your food safety policy. And you know where to come if you need help with that.

The week that was…in Kiwi (Agri)-Politics – Week 35


New Zealand is being treated to the spectacle of the three stooges candidates for the Labour Party Leadership juggling tripping around the country competing for the votes of party members, with attending Parliamentary question time to demonstrate to their caucus colleagues how they would perform against Prime Minister John Key in the chamber. Each man obviously has their supporters and detractors, and inevitably, they can’t helpful themselves and are wading in to influence the leadership election outcome.  Depending upon whom one listens to then, Shane Jones is therefore being described either as a larrikin with a mini-bar & video channel problem, a healthy male or the shining political light for Tangata Whenua; Grant Robertson’s labels range from graphic descriptors of his sexuality and being an inexperienced ex-diplomat, to gifted debater and consummate caucus unifier; whereas David Cunliffe is simultaneously being referred to as the only hope Labour has got to win the next election and being the soon to be published author of ‘The Dummies’ Guide to Walking On Water.’

Regardless of whether one does care as a  Labour supporter or does not care about Labour Party politics because one typically votes for another party or not at all; or whether one cares deeply for democracy’s sake but  just wishes they would get on with it and ‘stop the circus’ as Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott put it so aptly yesterday; it is time we actually started to look at the views and policies of the organisation rather than the theatrics of the individuals.

At the recent Horticulture New Zealand conference  in Wellington Labour’s Horticulture spokesperson Damien O’Connor spoke and you can find a copy of his address here.

I want to pick up on three points O’Connor made during his address and these relate to leadership, the type of food producer we want to be, and the Primary Growth Partnership programme.

Leadership is essential in any setting where a group of people or organisations are working towards a common goal. Where leadership is lacking or weak, indecisiveness, poor decision-making and under-optimised outcomes are the order of the day. Leadership does not equate to dictatorship nor is leadership the responsibility of a single organisation or individual, particularly not in Horticulture. We are not the meat industry where the export energy ultimately revolves around bits of dead animal being shipped somehow somewhere, in various degrees of pan & pot readiness over a period of time that is not always mission critical.

Horticulture works to a different agenda where the dynamics of, for example, pip fruit, are not always compatible with those of kiwifruit, potatoes or green leafy vegetables. We therefore need to have a clear understanding where we can optimise our leverage through industry wide leadership and where strong sector leadership is more appropriate.

I don’t think we are there yet.

O’Connor outlined the choices of being a low value high volume anonymous commodity producer with low brand equity or a high value, known exporter with high brand equity. If we were really living in an either/or environment, then the choice would be a non-brainer. But life is not as simple as that. Ultimately, we want to be both. We want to export high value fresh produce known for its health and well-being benefits from a country with a reputation for the highest standards in production, post harvest management and food safety (a bit of remedial work required in this area) – and we want to see as many as possible processed FMCG products developed which are fruit or vegetable based and can be enhanced by our produce as opposed to that of other countries.

The lack of a horticultural presence in the Primary Industry Growth partnership programme is in my view a combination of the programme not being as workable for horticulture as it is for other primary industry sectors and a lack of maturity of our industry.  A couple of years back, The AgriChain Centre was part of a consortium that prepared a bid to establish a Primary Industry Growth partnership programme. Our application failed on two grounds. Firstly, the programme is based on the primary production applicant from the outset partnering with an existing value adding multiplier. The weakness of  that approach is that the opportunity for a commodity producer to make the paradigm shift to brand marketer – because that is ultimately where the value can be unlocked O’Connor is talking about – is blocked from the outset as that territory is already occupied by the proposed FMCG partner who is looking for ingredients not an emerging competitor. Secondly, the ‘partnership’ element of the ‘Primary Growth  Partnership’ model requires the applicant to commit to a 50/50 funding model. Our consortium presented an innovative proposal aimed at assisting growers to build value through moving their focus and activities to the value adding territory of the supply chain. This did not fit the narrow prescriptive criteria against which the MPI appointed panel evaluated proposals. Shortly thereafter the kiwifruit vine disease PSA hit the industry with brute force and the lead up to the 2012 compulsory levy vote meant that internal issues gained greater prominence.

Ultimately O’Connor is right though. Horticulture should not be missing in action in the Primary Growth Partnership model – so watch this space.

I found the overviews of O’Connor’s speech provided in the August editions of Orchardist and Grower not truly reflective of the messages he gave. When we do get politicians along to talk to us at a Conference, we need to engage.   And given New Zealand’s MMP electoral system, we may actually indeed find ourselves back with a Labour led Government next year – assuming that the successful one  of today’s Holy Trinity finds his feet and gets on with creating a robust and meaningful Opposition that provides our 2014 voters with a meaningful choice.  And 2014 is next year by the way!

Horticulture New Zealand – Evolving or Revolting?

hortnz logoThere seem to be some changes afoot at Horticulture New Zealand. Some quite obvious, some not quite so. Andrew Fenton, the organisation’s inaugural president has hung up his shingle as far as that office is concerned, although he is continuing on the Board. Andrew had a good run and worked hard at moulding those two fairly disparate bodies VegFed and FruitFed into one homogenous organisation. Opinion is divided in terms of how successful he was in that. My opinion, for one, is this: Andrew provided solid leadership to Horticulture New Zealand. And leaders are not there to be liked, they are there to be respected. His presidency had to cope with the potato psyllid, kiwifruit PSA, a blurring of lines of how to define a grower, a whole bunch of other issues and a Government which firmly believes that grower pockets are deep enough to pay for part of the country’s Biosecurity incursion response costs. So yes, Andrew was a successful president.

Andrew’s successor, Julian Raine, is a Mainlander, as is the Vice President, one Brian Gargiulo, this well known Banana grower from Christchurch. – At least this is how Brian referred to himself at the speaker’s podium recently.  A remarkable transformation from growing little round green fruit that ought to be red to longish bent green fruit that turn yellow if you know your stuff, but I am digressing. –

Julian is also a kiwifruit grower. He does not just grow kiwifruit, he is also into apples, boysenberries and blackcurrants – but kiwifruit are part of his diversified portfolio. My point being? Well, no one should be surprised about the fact that a kiwifruit grower follows a kiwifruit grower in the presidency of Horticulture New Zealand and if you believe its a coincidence, you probably still believe in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy.

I am not complaining and I am sure Julian will also be a worthy leader of Horticulture New Zealand. We just need to understand that with the weighting kiwifruit has in our fresh produce export portfolio, a kiwifruit grower as President is more or less a foregone conclusion, like it or not. What will Julian’s challenges be then? There will be plenty I reckon. Some have been around since Adam was a cowboy, others are raising their head now.kiwifruit payments

I picked up this booklet on ZESPRI  2013 Grower Payments up at the conference and Julian, being a kiwifruit grower himself, will obviously be familiar with the content. The booklet is very well laid out, easy to follow and anyone who reads it  is left in no doubt that the kiwifruit sector is, despite PSA, well organised and displaying all the hallmarks of a well organised industry, where growers know where they stand, how their payments are structured and how excellence is awarded. If one compares this with a broccoli grower supplying local supermarkets at the other end of the scale, one gains an appreciation how diverse the produce industry is and that growers face rafts of differing issues, depending on what they grow, how they are organised and whom they supply.

One of the recent HortNZ weekly e-mail newsletter updates announced the formation of a “working group to look at the organisation’s structure and Board election processes. The group will develop a discussion paper including a description of the status quo and various options for change to enable wider industry discussion.” That announcement relates to the recently published Future Focus report. Two of the fundamental pillars of that report clearly do not sit well with all growers, particularly some of the the larger growers who are very focused on their specific crops and consequently have put a lot of energy into building robust product groups affiliated to Horticulture New Zealand.

A Motion was therefore put to the Horticulture New Zealand AGM in July 2013, Motion 6, entitled PRODUCT GROUPS NOT GROWERS AS MEMBERS OF HORTNZ  which wanted to see individual growers to be funneled into product group membership and product groups being the only Horticulure New Zealand members. The order paper containing all motions is noteworthy for three aspect in relation to Motion 6. Firstly, Motion 6 is the only motion on the Order Paper that starts with a legal opinion – a sign that this is a meaty issue indeed. Secondly, the Explanatory Note accompanying the motion states that only 28% of growers voted in the 2012 Commodity Levy Referendum, suggesting that Horticulture New Zealand “remains disengaged…with approximately 4,000 growers.” If that is correct, then we are seeing an accelerated rationalisation process taking place within the industry.  A successful levy referendum needed to be supported by more than 50% of voting growers and more than 50% of associated production volume. Growers seems to be be further reducing in numbers and the remaining ones are getting bigger and are diversifying into other supply chain functions. Thirdly, this motion can only be seen as a direct challenge to the existing structure and task allocation of the grower bodies, with product groups lining up on one side of the fence and Hort NZ on the other.  Not a pretty sight if it gets ugly.

One of the signs that “ugly” is not too harsh a term to use, played itself out in the Tomato Sector Conference held in conjunction with the main Horticulture New Zealand event. Arriving midway during the morning session, I promptly realised that I had walked into a stoush between growers and the independent sector chair. It seems that the product groups chairs at a meeting earlier in the year decided to place a cap on operating grant applications accepted from local grower associations. Given that it is grassroots growers at local level and regardless of size who are paying the levies to both Hort NZ and their respective product groups, a fair head of indignant steam was being vented by amongst others, the aforementioned Canterbury banana grower.

And do you know what? They have a point. With growers providing the money in the first place, it is a little hard to swallow for them that they should now be limited in funds they can apply for to run their local activities. With any organsiation, a healthy grassroots structure is the critical platform to achieve critcial mass, whether you are a member organisation, a supermarket chain with local branches or a political party with local MPs. What we seem to have here is a national body under attack from product groups wanting to pursue their own agendas; more product groups appointing independent chairs, wishing to inject heightened levels of objectivity, skills sets and professionalism into their performance; and, growers funding both bodies but with reducing ability to pay for their local industry association activities unless they want to dip their hands into their wallets a third time.

Is it a surprise therefore that growers are disgruntled? No! And what’s more – all the above discussed lines of thought are very plausible when assessed in isolation – unfortunately, we are living in the age of global connectivity and isolationism is no longer good enough. Does this need to be sorted? Absolutely? When? Yesterday! Why? Because the common ‘enemy’ is ‘out there’, not amongst us!

And before any grower reader of this column starts wondering why a non-grower like me is getting interested in how Horticulture New Zealand and the issues it faces will evolve, I suggest you head for the this page of the Hort NZ site.  Julian, I wish you well.

The week that was…in Kiwi (Agri)-Politics – Week34

©2003-2012 - Les Editions Albert-René/Goscinny-Uderzo

©2003-2012 – Les Editions Albert-René/Goscinny-Uderzo

As a youngster, I loved to read Asterix & Obelix comics. As I grew older, I began to appreciate these not just in the German language but also in Latin. The wit contained in these comics is priceless and crosses cultural boundaries. One thing I remember from my extensive study of the series is that there were two people who regularly got into trouble in the Gallic village which kept on defying the Roman empire. The bard Troubardix and the fishmonger Unhygienix. The former was gagged and bound whenever he opened his mouth because he was known for singing out of tune. The latter copped it on occupational grounds. He kept  insisting that his fish were fresh and constantly tried to stick them under peoples’ noses to encourage them to purchase. Invariably, the fish was not fresh and his Gallic friends and neighbours took offence at his crude sales techniques and beat him up.

When I saw the image of New Zealand Labour Party Leader  David Shearer holding up his snapper earlier this week, Unhygienix the fishmonger came to mind straight away.  At least some of the Labour Party caucus must be Asterix fans as well, judging by what happened yesterday. Whilst I don’t know how smelly the snapper were Shearer waved around the debating chamber, it is obvious that someone took offence.

There isn’t just one moral of this story and I leave you to figure which moral fits best for you. From my (agri)-politics perspective the following thought comes to mind: Contaminated milk, irradiated tomatoes and snapper fishing rules disputes are classic examples why Kiwi politicians really need to have a very firm fix on matters relating to the primary industry as it continues to support all our livelihoods. So get with it guys and stop using produce, meat and fish for cheap political stunts. These have a habit of misfiring.

Mr Fix It Approach versus Engaging A Service Provider

dogsittersThere are two ways to make money in the produce industry. One is to sell produce, the other one, in the broadest sense of the word, is to service the produce industry. These girls here have the right idea. They have perched themselves in a prime position at the entrance to the Matakana Farmers Market and are offering to dog sit. What a brilliant idea. Dogs need to be taken out from time to time to avoid them tearing up the furniture. But do I really have to take the dog into the narrow confines of a food market where the smell of salami, coffee and strawberries is overpowering enough for me, let alone a sensitive dog’s nose? Not if there is a viable alternative available, one for which I gladly use a bit of small change out of my pockets as I perceive to be gaining value from the transaction.

And that is the key to the question of whether I do something myself or whether I engage a service provider – VALUE. How do I optimise value? Am I the best person to do the job? Do I have the requisite skill or knowledge? Could I do something more constructive with my time? Would my customers be happier if I used an independent and impartial service provider? The fresh produce value chain is gaining in complexity, the wriggle room for short cut Harrys is reducing by the week and as an industry we will need to aspire to new levels of professionalism in order to keep our customers happy. The old ways of doing things are not necessarily going to get us there.