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Agricultural productivity focus of Government attention

There was still plenty of potential for productivity improvement in the primary production sector, Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton and Associate Rural Affairs Minister Damien O’Connor said today.

The ministers released a report prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board, Contribution of the Land-based Primary Industries to New Zealand’s Economic Growth.

The report assesses the importance of primary industries to New Zealand’s economic wellbeing and proposes areas of potential improvement.

It says that New Zealand needs to drive off its existing agribusiness and forestry sectors, including the wider cluster businesses around them. The scale of the agribusiness and forestry sectors provide much of the platform and the critical mass of competencies for New Zealand’s future economic growth, for the seeding and spinning off of new entrepreneurial ventures, and for the exploitation of new biotechnology opportunities.

Mr Sutton and Mr O’Connor said primary industry was the engine room of the economy, and since the mid-1980s had increases in productivity rates well above that of the general economy.

The Growth and Innnovation Advisory Board had taken the report on board and was doing further work in the area, they said.

“We feel optimistic about what will come out of this.”

Mr Sutton and Mr O’Connor said primary industries were affected by both domestic and international forces.

Mr O’Connor said the Government was acting to ensure that domestically farmers and growers had the resources they needed. An example of this was the initial funding and co-ordination of an industry group to ensure skilled labour went into primary industries.

Mr Sutton said the Government was also acting to ensure international forces worked for New Zealand, not against it.

Examples of this were the more than $50 million extra a year spent on biosecurity baseline funding, and the efforts put into trade negotiations, such as at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Mexico this week, which Mr Sutton would be attending as leader of a significant New Zealand delegation.

Mr Sutton and Mr O’Connor said the rural sector was a significant one to the Labour-Progressive Government, and this was recognised by the Rural Affairs portfolio.

“This Government recognises the importance of the rural sector. There are many other things this Government has done that help rural people.

“We have established the Heartland Services Centres, returning essential government agencies back to rural areas. We’ve facilitated farmer-supported restructuring in the dairy, kiwifruit, and hops industries, with work ongoing in the wool, meat, and wine industries. We’ve provided extra funding to help retain and recruit GPs in isolated rural areas, providing for a rural premium, a Rural Locum Support Scheme and the Rural Practice Support Scheme. We have funded mobile surgical units to reinforce services in rural areas. We’re facilitating and promoting the provision of broadband internet services to rural communities and remote regions. The Sustainable Farming Fund has been very successful. This fund works with community funding as well, but would not have been possible without the Government’s funding.”

Mr Sutton and Mr O’Connor said the Government would continue to work for rural people, and the report to the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board indicated some potential ways forward.

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