14 Aug 2018

Urban sprawl could hike up food prices, threaten valuable land

8:44 pm on 14 August 2018

New Zealanders are being warned that urban sprawl could smother valuable productive land south of Auckland and make food more expensive.

Lettuce crops being grown in market gardens in Pukekohe.

A file photo of lettuce crops being grown in market gardens in Pukekohe. Photo: RNZ/ Brad White

A report just released at Parliament this evening said letting market gardens around Pukekohe disappear under houses could push up the price of some fruit and vegetables by up to 58 percent, reduce jobs in the area and destroy a distinctive multicultural community.

The report by Deloitte, and commissioned by Horticulture New Zealand, said New Zealand vegetable growing land had decreased by nearly a third between 2002 and 2016.

"Significant and often swift land-use change is putting pressure on our growing hubs - like Pukekohe, Manawatū, Hawke's Bay and Central Otago - to keep up with New Zealanders' appetite for fruit and vegetables," the report warns before focusing mainly on the growth of houses south of Auckland.

It said that the 4,359 hectares around Pukekohe contained some of New Zealand's most fertile and productive soils, with a largely frost-free climate and close to transport lines and the population of Auckland. It is also the home of a flourishing population of Indian, Chinese and other ethnicity market gardeners.

The area accounts for 3.8 percent of New Zealand's land under fruit and vegetable production but 26 percent of the country's value of production of vegetables.

So, the report argued, any encroachment of land was a significant "food security" issue for Auckland and New Zealand.

Lettuces for $5.54?

If the sprawl continued, then some 4,500 jobs could be at risk, fruit and vegetable production could be halved and prices would rise, somewhere between 43 and 58 percent, it estimated. The report said a lettuce, for instance, could cost $5.54.

Local and central government needed to balance urban growth with the need to protect productive land and fertile soils, the report said.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, who was at the launch of the report, said New Zealand's soils were a "precious resource" - not just for growers but for every Kiwi who liked to "eat their greens".

"I support efforts to ensure we protect our elite, food-producing soils so our growers can continue to feed us with healthy, natural produce."

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said it made economic sense to protect "growing hubs" close to cities.

"They not only provide food that contributes to the physical health of New Zealanders, but also jobs, and vibrant businesses and communities.

"Food and housing are competing for land and water. We need both, so now is a good time to be smart about long-term planning for food security and domestic supply.

"We will not always be able to source food from other countries - look at the extremely hot summer the northern part of the world is having and the impact it is having on food production because of drought."

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