I threw open the door to the small deck off my home lockdown 2.0 office this morning before sitting at my desk and wiggling my mouse to enliven my computer and was immediately caught by the thrumming of bees echoing into the room as they attentively go about their seasonal work on my freshly blossoming plum tree. As I type I can see the thinner branches bobbing up and down with the weight of what must be thousands of the dedicated little troopers doing their bit to ensure we have a glut of plums on the bench at Christmas.
I have a wide range of fruit trees in the home orchard including several plums, but this one is an early variety and it is always my trigger to pause and acknowledge that several of Aotearoa’s key seasons are lining up, whether we (the industry) are ready for them or not.
This year we will all face the same uncertainty we have for the last couple of seasons, albeit with some predisposition on our side. Labour, lockdowns and weather will all be high on everyone’s barometer as we close in on the critical milestones toward having our nurtured crops safely packed, and more importantly, in market.
In our post-harvest supply world logistics is our number one challenge. Sadly, we have come to accept some of the other challenges and face up to them in an increasingly normal approach. As frustrating as it is, we have adapted and have systems and plans in place to accommodate. But logistics is becoming extremely difficult to plan around. Our inventory on hand has tripled to ensure we do not stock out, which it turns out is the easy part. With full container pricing having tripled and quadrupled in some cases, the effect on some of our commodity pricing is very very significant. After what feels like a decade of stability our team are faced with some really challenging work around how to handle pricing volatility and of course the nerve racking customer conversations (don’t be too hard on them!). It seems to be salt in a cut to be faced with all of these challenges and then loaded on top the cost of labour and raw materials is going through the roof.
If the regular challenges of seasonality are not enough for us all, then the extra loading on the one in front of us is going to make all our backs hurt. Luckily I would suggest that I have never worked in an industry where everyone gets behind their peers and colleagues like they do in hort. Being on the bottom of the planet and trying to shift ten billion bucks worth of NZ Inc northward, we have to hold hands, buckle up and work closely to make sure everyone has what they need, when they need it.
We are all in this together.