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Sutton to Organic small producers scheme launch

Sutton Address: Organic small producers certification scheme: launch, Auckland

Ladies and Gentlemen: I am delighted to be here today, at the launching of this small-scale organic producers' certification scheme. The Government has invested significantly in this project and it is now time for the producers to carry it forward.

From today's launch, I hope it will grow to cover the whole country and become self-supporting.

Ladies and Gentlemen: as Minister of Agriculture, I have a commitment to the primary producers of our country.

Primary products earn more than 60 per cent of this country's export earnings. Agriculture is the heart of our economy ? and it will always be that way. Food is something the people of the world are always going to need. I hope that they are always going to want the fine, innovate, quality products of New Zealand.

Maintaining the market lead we currently have in many international sectors requires people to be up to speed, agile, and able to sniff out lucrative niche markets.

Organics are one of those key, lucrative markets.

The Government is determined to help the organic sector to help itself to make the best possible contribution to New Zealand.

So, we have not only funded the small-scale organic producers' certification scheme, but we are also funding the development of the New Zealand organic standard and a strategy for the development of the industry. These two are expected to be launched within the next few months.

I think that collectively, the three iniatives should see the organics sector well-positioned for a prosperous future.

The organics sector is continuing to grow. However, small-scale producers will remain a vital part of the sector. In fact, they may well be, world wide, considered the very heart of the organic philosophy.

Land under certified organic production in New Zealand is now about 50,000 hectares. The world total is about 17 million hectares, with Australasia about 45 per cent of this. Our Australian cousins have by far the largest area of any country in organics.

Ironically, they also have commercially released genetically engineered crops too.

About 80 per cent of our organic land is pasture land, but the key products for export are currently organic kiwifruit and apples. Processed vegetables are also important. On the home front, fruit and vegetables dominate, and I suspect that is the area with greatest potential for growth.

Some organic producers claim that this Government does not provide sufficient funding for research and development to support the organics sector. However, the figures dispute that assertion. Annual funding from the Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology for research that contributes to organics is about $45 million. Of course, this research benefits conventional agriculture as well.

On a smaller scale, the Sustainable Farming Fund ? set up by the Labour-led Government last term ? has given more than $1.6 million to organics projects. These range from organic strawberry management, handling internal parasites, technology transfer, organic pipfruit, and enhancing exports.

But I do not want organic producers to expect a future of organic-specific subsidies. Organic produce is a high-priced alternative for consumers. In general, it comes from systems requiring more physical work and producing lower yields. Numerous examples demonstrate that as with just about every other product, if supply exceeds demand, prices will fall.

One of the strengths of New Zealand agriculture, compared to our competitors around the world, is that our farmers seek solutions to their problems on the farm and in the market, not in the corridors of Parliament.

Since New Zealand removed all direct subsidies and price guaranteeds from agriculture in the 1980s, our farmers have become more market-led, ensuring htat they produce what their customers truly want to buy. As a result, after some difficult transitional times, they have prospered, and their percentage contribution to the national economic is increased.

I fully expect organic agriculture to also prosper and grow ? but only if it adheres to that same tried and true formula of being led by consumer demand, rather than producer preferences.

There is much room for more research. Much of that can be done on the basis of industry-Government partnership.

Some acknowledged as needing more work are: weed, pest, and disease management, as well as the maintenance of soil fertility on large-scale operations. Animal welfare is also an issue that warrants further attention.

But that is for the future.

Today, we are celebrating the launch of this initiative. My congratulations to everyone involved.The Soil and Health Association as the primary contractors have seen a difficult task through to fruition. I wish the scheme well in the future.

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