The global population is growing and so is the demand for food. This means more jobs, with more variety, in a country that is famed for its natural resources and can-do attitude. Jobs maybe for you.
Today an estimated 7.3 billion people live on earth, and they reckon this will grow by almost a third to 9.8 billion people in the next 30 years. Most of this population growth will be in urban areas and in poorer countries, meaning more and more food will need to be produced to meet population demands.
This growth is an incredible opportunity for New Zealand farmers and food growers. We export 60% of what we grow at present, and in the next 8 years the government aims to double our primary industry exports. To make this happen, the industry will need 50,000 more skilled workers. This means lots of good jobs for school leavers like you.
Is horticulture just growing food?
It’s more than that. Horticulture is an umbrella term covering not just food growing but developing new, more efficient and more productive ways of doing this. Horticulturists need to balance the sometimes-opposing goals of increasing production and conserving the planet’s resources, and are working on ways to sustainably intensify agriculture on its existing footprint.
Horticulturists have access to the tools of plant genetics, chemistry, agronomics, and machinery, but their biggest tool in the future could come from change itself – artificial intelligence.
AI moving into the horticulture sector
Horticulture is rapidly becoming more and more digital. Farmers and growers are using every piece of data they can gather, smart information management systems, algorithms that can predict yeilds and even identify pests, drones to monitor crop growth and threats, probes to determine soil state and fertilizer levels and robotics to plant and harvest crops.
There are even machines which use cameras to identify weeds among crops and spray them directly, hugely reducing the amount of chemicals being used.
"The growth area is digital horticulture, such as in irrigation, greenhouse technology and robotic picking,” says Massey University senior horticultural production lecturer, Dr Huub Kerckhoffs.
Industry desperate for horticulture grads
“Horticulture has a vital role to play in food production in the future and the industry is desperate for horticulture graduates,” Dr Kerckhoffs told Stuff.
So desperate that Massey horticulture graduates each get 5-10 job offers. Dr Kerckhoffs said graduates were walking into well paying jobs and in a few years after graduation could be earning in excess of $80,000.
Massey now plans to launch a specialised horticultural degree – a Bachelor of Horticulture – in 2019. The degree will focus on horticultural engineering and commerce as well as the latest computer engineering which was very much part of today's horticulture.
Growth in exports means growth in jobs
Horticultural growth in New Zealand is led by kiwifruit and apples, and good export growth for cherries, avocados and some vegetables (such as onions) is predicted. New Zealand is well placed to tap into powerful global consumer trends such as wanting healthy foods that promote wellness, demanding and being able to afford convenient and indulgent foods, and strong consumer desires to source food grown in sustainable ways that are environmentally friendly.
To continue this growth the horticultural industry here need all sorts of expertise and skills, including IT specialists, software architects, engineers of every sort and persuasion, roboticists, biochemists, food technologists, packaging technicians, agronomists, scientists, marketers, supply chain managers, accountants, lawyers, communication specialists, and of course those skilled in horticulture.
Is there a role for you in the NZ horticulture industry?