From the land
The primary production sector will be one of the key drivers for economic recovery across New Zealand post-Covid-19, and the industry in Tairawhiti has a history of excellence to draw on.
Elements of the national economy — particularly small business, tourism and hospitality — have suffered massive hits in the past seven weeks.
But regardless of how major the impacts on the New Zealand and the global economy continue to be going forward, people have still got to eat.
That will be where places like Tairawhiti continue to step up to the plate.
AgFirst consultant Peter Andrew said the primary sector would play a leading role in the economic recovery and nowhere more so than Tairawhiti.
“Striving to be the best is a key driver for our local farmers and is part of our DNA,” he said.
“I would point to recent outstanding examples like the current Ahuwhenua Trophy winners (for top Maori sheep and beef farm in Aotearoa) Eugene and Pania King from Motu and Gisborne-Wairoa Federated Farmers Farm of the Year winners Malcolm and Caroline Rau at Puketia Station at Matawai . . . and we have youth on our side.
“Our farming team out there are in the main young and motivated, and we have institutions like the Waipaoa farm cadets scheme injecting quality workers at a young age into the primary production sector in this district.
“They love their job.”
Mr Andrew said primary production would remain a competitive land use here despite the growing incursion of forestry on to previously-farmed land.
“We have a low cost to produce food relative to much of the rest of New Zealand and much of the world.
“Generally, relative to other parts of New Zealand, we do not need to feed winter supplements and we normally do not need irrigation, though some of our inland farmers affected by a dry autumn might disagree with that right now.
“We're totally unsubsidised . . . we are real businesses producing for real markets and we produce great beef and lamb.”
Mr Andrew said there were huge opportunities to improve production from the land.
“But how do we achieve it?
“The local farmer business groups are the cornerstone of the past progress and are critical for achieving future goals.
“This is because of the physical and financial benchmarking mixed with the farmers' individual desire to get better and to be the best.
“We are all ambitious. No one wants to be beaten,” he said.
“I work with six farmer business groups covering 80 odd farms that extend from Tutira to Tokomaru Bay.
“Many of these groups are at capacity and have waiting lists to join. It demonstrates the positive attitude that is out there right now.”
Mr Andrew said the groups were not only good for learning but also provided a feel for what was happening out there.
“I do not see any reason for this region to be losing jobs from the sheep and beef sector.
“In fact, we need more workers, especially in areas such as fencing and general work. But they must turn up to work and they must have the right attitude.
“One of our problems is that we do not have enough land. Most farmers want to grow their business and that is demonstrated by the number of farmers turning up to buy land.
“It is a great sign of confidence in our industry and we can produce a lot more than what we do at present.
“So the future post-Covid for Tairawhiti I think speaks for itself. It's positive and bright.”
AgFirst consultant Hilton Collier said the region's exposure to the primary sector meant Tairawhiti would be well placed for a speedy recovery post-Covid-19.
“We should see strong demand in the short term as countries such as China continue to buy the products from this region, including red meat and logs, and farmers will continue to spend money.
“This is essential for the region as sectors such as tourism retrench. Overall we should be operating normally fairly quickly.”
Mr Collier said the medium-to-longer-term response would be more interesting as challenges and opportunities for the region remained.
“So much of our existing production is shipped out in an unprocessed form. We lose local opportunities to grow value here.
“We have Ovation NZ slaughtering and cutting some lamb and mutton here. However, a lot of sheep and all local beef are sent outside the region for processing.”
Almost all the region's logs were loaded on ships.
“These are examples of some of the lost opportunities. We need smarter primary sector strategies with shorter supply chains that connect our producers to consumers more directly,” Mr Collier said.
“This will give more purpose to the types of things producers must do to meet the expectations of consumers and inform those consumers about the producer.
“We are also faced with emerging issues around food sovereignty, water allocation, storage and quality.
“This will accelerate the change in land use we are seeing as more of the Poverty Bay Flats are converted to high-value horticulture, and crops such as tomatoes, squash and sweetcorn are pushed further up the Coast.”
That will change the economics of water storage and irrigation in the district.
“The success of LeaderBrand, Cedenco and Coxco shows local businesses are capable of taking these opportunities,” said Mr Collier. “The changes brought about by Covid-19, as well as Government investment in Tairawhiti, might be the catalyst.”