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As Minister for Primary Industries, you connect with all aspects of the rural sector. Where do you feel the greatest opportunities lie in terms of growth?
We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us to target the wealthiest consumers around the world with premium, value-added products. This is why we’ve set a goal of doubling the value of primary sector exports by 2025.
Irrigation and water storage will play a part in this by improving how we use our valuable water resources. We’re also investing heavily in science and research with industry through the Primary Growth Partnership, which has enormous potential.
What does New Zealand need to do to develop more rural leaders?
Attracting talented people and keeping them in the primary sector is a challenge and priority for both industry and Government.
Last year at Fieldays we launched Growing Our Futures, a series of videos of Primary Industry Champions developed by MPI to showcase people doing great things in the primary industries. We now have 135 Primary Industries Ambassadors available to go into schools, working with teachers and students to support their learning and raise awareness of these careers. They have already made over 500 visits to more than 150 schools. An important message we’re pushing is the primary sector isn’t just about milking cows or shearing sheep. It’s things like environmental planning, IT and robotics, research and development, veterinary science, biosecurity, food safety and plant science. Over the last three Budgets the Government has also increased tuition subsidies for tertiary agriculture qualifications by around 50 percent.
What parts of the world do you believe we should be targeting to grow our primary industry exports?
We already export to around 130 countries and it is important we keep diversifying so that we don’t become too reliant on one market.
I visited Iran last month and witnessed an agreement to restart our sheep and beef exports. In the 1980s they used to purchase around a quarter of our sheep meat so this is a market with great potential.
China will continue to be important as they have relaxed their onechild policy, which is expected to create a 30 percent increase in consumption within the next 10 years. It’s forecast that 38 children will be born every minute in China over the next few years – that’s the equivalent of a New Plymouth of babies per day.
What are the greatest challenges facing the primary sector and what strategies do MPI have in place?
Biosecurity is my number one priority as Minister because we need to protect our producers who are the backbone of New Zealand’s economy.
In recent years we have beefed up the system with more resources and man-power. In Budget 2015 I announced $27 million in new funding, which has helped employ 50 new front line biosecurity staff and 20 extra detector dog teams.
We have also introduced new x-ray scanning machines, a new inflight video and a dedicated border clearance levy to fund biosecurity services. Work is well underway on building a new $87 million biocontainment lab at Wallaceville in Upper Hutt. Another key tool is the Government- Industry Agreement (GIA), which involves industry and MPI working together on biosecurity.
In the past few years New Zealand farmers and growers have faced droughts, flood and insect pressure in various parts of the country. What lessons have we learned to increase our resilience to these issues?
Farmers and growers are incredibly resilient. In recent years they have made it through droughts, floods, snowstorms and commodity price fluctuations.
The importance of water storage and irrigation has been reinforced. That’s why it’s good to see the Hurunui Water Storage project in North Canterbury making progress as this is a region that really needs it. Water reticulation also has proven to be a good investment for farmers in dealing with these dry spells. As a Government we’ve been quick to support the primary sector through events like the Kaikoura earthquake and Wanganui floods and with extra funding for rural mental health to support dairy farmers.
The importance of communities looking out for each other has been paramount and groups like Rural Support Trusts have done a fantastic job.
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