By Elaine Fisher
This article was first published in the December 2020 issue of The Orchardist.
New Zealand growers can make the most of their competitive advantages when it comes to meeting proposed new standards like the European Green Deal, says Hawke’s Bay AgFirst Horticultural Consultant, Leander Archer, who has just completed a report on the topic.
“The Green Deal is the EU’s plan to be climate neutral by 2050 and make the supply chain more eco-friendly. That will impact on our exports to Europe.”
The EU plans to carry out a series of initiatives aimed to protect the environment and boost the green economy and will expect countries exporting food to the union to move in the same direction.
Leander’s report was for New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc and investigated what changes would be needed to meet the EU Green Deal requirements.
“Actually our growers are well ahead in this space, but there are things the industry will need to do to not only meet EU requirements but also new standards in this country,” says Leander who is a member of Women in Horticulture. “I’m excited that the world is moving towards an eco-friendly future and I want New Zealand industries to lead in this space – the unfortunate part is then having to prove it to everyone, which means a lot of administration for growers
“The usual carbon, energy, water use and chemistry use topics are all there, but there’s also focus on biodiversity, food waste, nutrient loss and the very exciting one – reducing non-circular packaging.”
When Leander joined AgFirst five years ago, after completing a Bachelor of AgriScience majoring in Horticulture at Massey University in 2015, she encountered an industry vastly different from that 15 to 20 years earlier.
The industry she knows today is focused on beneficial insects, and targeted use of soft sprays. “When I heard about what used to happen with calendar spraying and the harsh chemicals applied in the past I was surprised,” says Leander who is impressed at how growers now manage their orchards.
“I hold the environment very close to my heart and support management techniques which protect it. However, I have studied chemistry and understand that there are soft, targeted synthetic sprays which break down after use into non-harmful substrates. These are important to protect growers’ crops and I would not like to see the industry lose the right to use them or lose the ability to register new ones. There’s a new book on the topic called Farewell Silent Spring by Howard Wearing, published by the NZ Plant Protection Society.”
Horticulture has proved to be perfect for Leander, who as a senior student at Tawa College in Wellington, had no idea what career she wanted.
“People were telling me to find my passion and follow that, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I asked friends and family and they said ‘avocados’ and ‘eating fruit’. I am good at science, care for the environment and enjoy interacting with people, but being a chef didn’t quite fit.”
When a family friend suggested horticulture, Leander took a look at the Massey degree and became convinced that was for her – for many reasons. “It was a cool degree which led to a career in the fresh food industry, with a strong potential for job security; much of the work is outdoors and it’s also about helping feed people, and the environment.
“Because horticulture is about growing food it means jobs are in some of the best regions in terms of climate and I enjoy regional areas and the small-town feel.”
Another unplanned advantage was that house prices were more affordable in the regions. As a result, she and fiancé Connor have bought their own home. “It’s very much a doer-upper but we are loving it.”
While studying for her degree Leander had the chance to attend horticulture conferences and meet people from a diverse range of occupations. “This showed there are so many opportunities within horticulture.”
Leander began with Hawke’s Bay AgFirst as a technician and is now a consultant. She has a strong focus on environmental sustainability across all horticultural crops and is a specialist in the growing of apples and pears. Her roles include a mix of data analysis and reporting, environmental projects, orchard assessment and grower consultancy.
“I enjoy working with growers, helping them make sometimes small changes which can significantly increase their returns.”
Assessing land for horticultural production and putting together orchard development budgets are some of Leander’s favourite jobs. She also enjoys helping growers with orchard planning and crop estimation and sees a wave of Farm Environment Plans coming her way.
“Fruitgrowing and the environment are both extremely complex, linked systems and I love working with both. I don’t think I’ll stop learning for the rest of my career, which is just fine with me.”