Friday, July 1, 2022

Seed industry can stand tall

Having newly arrived in the seed industry I’ve discovered a raft of fascinating facts and figures about this sector. Essentially, they all point to the seed industry being an economic linchpin not just for New Zealand agriculture but for New Zealand as a whole. Many of the industry’s critical linkages are neither well known nor well promoted in the public domain.

So in this column – the first of an on-going series – I’m going to set the scene and hopefully shine new light on a part of NZ farming that’s been quietly going strong for nearly a century.

Late last year research firm BERL prepared a report entitled Economic Impact Assessment of Arable Production.

Key seed industry metrics identified in the report included:

Area under crop: 30,000 ha

Production: Cereal seed (eg wheat, barley, maize); pasture seed (eg ryegrass, clover) and vegetable seed (eg carrot, radish) – 115,000 tonnes

Farmgate sales: $450 million

Jobs created: 3200

Exports: $168 million, to more than 50 countries

GDP: $960 million

From these numbers alone it can be reasonably inferred that the seed industry is much more significant than most people realise.

But this is not the only trick. The seed business in fact underpins and is crucial to the success of agriculture in NZ, especially that of the pastoral sector.

For instance, plant breeders develop and raise the seed. Seed is sown by farmers to produce pasture. Pasture is grown to feed the livestock. The animals produce meat, wool and dairy products which feed and clothe NZers and the world.

Another example: seed is sown and grown by farmers into wheat; the flour mills make the flour, and the baker makes the bread.

It is precisely these social and economic impacts and benefits and other important details that might not be well-recognised or acknowledged, especially among some of our policymakers.

Across the board, Kiwi industry has been cajoled and implored by various governments to create more jobs, grow more export markets and undertake more research and innovation.

For the seed industry, translating these diverse areas and efforts into tangible results means firstly our policymakers need to pause for thought and view our industry and its range of issues more seriously.

We’ll be looking for obvious signs that they are listening.

We hope the national policy agenda reflects some of industry’s concerns, especially around initiatives to protect plant intellectual property, reopening lost market access, making it easier to import new plant materials and enabling innovation with new and advanced technology.

With many parts of our economy increasingly global in nature, it is necessary that longstanding issues and domestic policy settings are progressed or implemented.

Poor policy decisions might constrain the industry and inadvertently force businesses to contemplate making permanent arrangements elsewhere.

The seed industry has a competitive advantage and future by remaining in NZ.

Information is indeed power.

In terms of key decision-making the BERL data authenticates what we as an industry have long known – the seed industry is a vital player in the primary sector and is key for our ongoing agricultural successes within NZ and overseas.

This fact might not be well recognised but our industry is proud of its continuing contribution and for that it deserves to stand tall.

Thomas Chin

General manager of the New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association and New Zealand Plant Breeding and Research Association 

  • The New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association (NZGSTA) and the New Zealand Plant Breeding and Research Association (NZPBRA) have more than 80 members and represent breeders, processors, marketers, importers and researchers.
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