Vegetables could be in short supply with seed import crackdown

Published on : April 11, 2016 Topic : Export

New Zealand could face a vegetable shortage in coming months because of the Government's crackdown on seed imports.

Flowers too might be in short supply as imported seeds get caught up in new rules and costs of testing mount.

Carrots, lettuces, tomatoes, parsnips, and leek seeds could all be held up on the wharf awaiting testing for potential contamination.
In some cases overseas seed growers might not even bother to send seeds because the testing regime might be too costly.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has introduced regulations to make it more difficult to import seed after the invasive weed velvetleaf was discovered in fodder beet imports. It is now growing on farms throughout the country.

Mark Johnson, chairman of the vegetable seed section of the New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association (NZGSTA), said the country was highly dependent on the import of overseas genetics for vegetables.

Virtually all seed for vegetable growing - apart from onions and pumpkins - is imported. Tubers such as potatoes and kumara are grown in New Zealand and are not affected.

"Will there be any shortages of some products? Yes is the answer to that because it will be very expensive to bring in small lots of seed because the cost of the testing might be too much," Johnson said.

MPI had not yet announced how much the tests would cost. Johnson said he had looked at a hypothetical scenario.
"If you were a seed company bringing in 10 lettuce lines for a specific grower, you would say 'gosh those tests will cost $800 a test, that's $8000 worth of testing, but the seed's worth only $5000'. So the seed won't be coming in," Johnson said.

New Zealand did not take a lot of seeds compared to other countries so small, specialised shipments would be affected.

General manager of the NZGSTA Thomas Chin criticised MPI for the way it had communicated with his group.

"They (MPI) have instituted new measures but there hasn't been much thought given over to the process. We don't know the costs required by the industry, and where and when the testing is to be carried out," he said.

Members had been asked to join a phone conference on Friday afternoon last week only 45 minutes before the conference was due to start.

Chin said a lot of seed arrived in New Zealand on a "just in time" basis so needed to be used promptly.

Johnson said MPI should have identified the "pathway of risk" more clearly.

Many seeds were plainly not a risk because they were produced in a totally hygienic environment, where they were washed, cleaned and dried without being handled.

He said New Zealand itself produced a lot of vegetable seed for overseas seed companies, but they were the companies' intellectual property.

These seeds were often exported from New Zealand, and later imported into the country for nurseries and market gardens.

Gerard Martin of King Seeds in the Bay of Plenty said he understood MPI was "between a rock and a hard place" but hoped officials would take commercial reality into account.

King Seeds buy their flower seeds from seed supplier Egmont Seeds.

"They import 3000 different pelletised seeds a year, all different varieties, and they are talking $500 a line to test them, so you can imagine what that's going to do to their business.

"Those are costs they are not going to be able to pass on, they will have to discontinue a lot of stuff," Martin said.

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