The plight of Pukekohe

by | Feb 2, 2023 | Opinion

It’s not often in today’s consumer focused world that vegetables are delivered direct to your door or,
in this case the footpath and road outside your home. While there is currently a shortage of onions
due to uncertain weather conditions, this week residents around Pukekohe’s productive rural sector
found that this menu staple was readily available on berms, in driveways and footpaths as they were
washed from fields into neighbouring streets. And not just one or two onions, but rivers of them.
Residents found that in the absence of having space for their own vegetable plot, the vegetables had
come to them. Tonnes of vegetables washed into drains, culverts and streets as heavy downpours
over days turned the prime growing soils around the Franklin district into a soup.

It’s been a tough few years for Pukekohe growers faced with labour shortages, increasing costs and
the encroachment of new housing subdivisions where new neighbours request that you don’t spray
your fields as they have washing to hang up. After months marked by labour shortages resulting in
crops being left in fields to rot the unseasonal and unexpected weather experienced across the
region was the icing on a very unpalateable cake.

Onions that should have been left lying drying in the heat of an Auckland summer to prepare them
for final harvesting and distribution, along with other crops, flowed as a result of the continual
torrential downpour, into residential neighbourhoods adjacent to fertile and productive fields. This
came on the heels of extreme winter weather, which damaged crops and produce such as broccoli
was left to rot in fields due to labour shortages and the inability to harvest crops. This came at a time
when consumers reacted to the hike in price of produce in supermarkets and lettuce was deemed

Growers are facing unprecedented cost pressures to keep their businesses viable, with fertiliser
increasing 300%, fuel costs up 200% freight along with increased seed costs and labour shortages all
adding to the pain in getting produce to market and while cost pressures are out of control, the
recent weather highlighted that the weather is also beyond our control.

The interesting thing is that the elite soils around Pukekohe’s border mitigate the effects of climate
change and while a hot topic on every politician’s agenda right now with the government looking to
find answers and solutions, nature controls the weather and our weather is changing.

An MP said recently “this has been a bloody tough year for farmers” and he is right. What we also
need to remember is that the growers and producers are also ‘the rock stars’ of our food and
beverage sector. And while Elton John’s concert was a ‘wash out’, it was the same for these rock
stars of our food economy.

Speaking of rock stars, Pukekohe grower Allan Fong had this to say: “We have put in measures over
the past 15 – 20 years to mitigate situations like this. The thing is that the crops that are drowned
have drowned. There will be some impacts on crops for a while and it depends too how the land lies
as to what crops will be grown and what is produced. It’s different with different growers as they are
geographically spread across the region and not all suffered in the same way as those who lost crops
from fields. In 3 – 4 months we will be back to normal again. There is so much propaganda out there
about prices and so forth but lettuces for example have come down in price and not everything has
risen; it depends on what is being said in the press at any given time. And climate change? That’s
debatable as to whether this was a result of climate change or not. Weather happens and it’s part of
the growing cycle”.

About the Author

Wendy Voegelin

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