This is the first in a brief series of articles that examine New Zealand’s horticulture industry. This article looks at the industry as a whole, while articles that follow will spotlight exports and employment in key crops.
The value of New Zealand’s merchandise exports increased by about 22 percent between 2015 and 2020, to reach an annual total of almost $60 billion. Within that total, our primary sector exports (agriculture and horticulture, forestry and fishing) increased by just over 31 percent, to reach a total of $46 billion. Together, meat and dairy exports performed strongly, but horticulture exports took the prize, by growing by 68 percent.
Our horticulture exports are now worth as much as our meat exports.
In 2015, New Zealand’s horticulture exports were worth a little less than $4.8 billion, but they increased to $8.0 billion in 2020. The $8.0 billion figure is significant because it means that our horticulture exports are now worth as much as our meat exports.
Horticulture is, of course, a diverse activity, encompassing many different crop types. However, kiwifruit now accounts for one third of exports, by value. Apples account for 11 percent, other fruits combined account for just under half, and vegetables account for six percent.
The industry is also important in terms of providing employment opportunities. The number of jobs in the sector was in fairly steady decline between 2000 and 2015, but reflecting the growth in exports, the number of FTE jobs picked up from around 30,800 in 2015, to 34,500 in 2020, an increase of 12 percent. Horticulture now employs many more people than beef and sheep farming, which now employs around 21,000 FTEs
Horticulture provided job opportunities in 2020 for a significant number of New Zealanders who lost their jobs because of COVID-19.
More importantly, perhaps, horticulture is notable as having provided employment opportunities in 2020 for a significant number of New Zealanders who lost their jobs because of COVID-19. Many of these job opportunities have remained open in 2021 because of a lack of backpackers and RSE workers from overseas. Indeed, there are concerns that exports of some crop types will fall this year because there are not enough people to pick the crops.