A flow of Covid-related announcements from The Beehive was interrupted by news of a Government investment in robotics.
The Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) is contributing $2.6 million to a $5 million project to develop a commercial-scale autonomous robotic asparagus harvester.
Project partner Robotics Plus Limited (RPL) will build on a prototype asparagus harvesting robot developed by Waikato University researchers, and the New Zealand Asparagus Council will develop a marketing proposition for exporting the asparagus.
All other Beehive announcements (when Point of Order checked this morning) related to Covid-19.
The best of those told us more Pfizer is on the way.
Another welcome decision related to driver licences, Warrants of Fitness (WoFs), Certificates of Fitness (CoFs), vehicle licences (‘regos’) and licence endorsements that expired on or after 21 July 2021. Their validity has been extended until 30 November.
Latest from the Beehive
The first stage of one-way quarantine-free travel with Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu will commence in October, initially for Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers from those countries, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced.
Applications have opened for the Pacific Suicide Prevention Community Fund as the Government acts to boost support amid the COVID delta outbreak.
As a result of the Delta outbreak, driver licences, Warrants of Fitness (WoFs), Certificates of Fitness (CoFs), vehicle licences (‘regos’) and licence endorsements that expired on or after 21 July 2021 will be valid until 30 November 2021, Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced.
Minister for Women Jan Tinetti today announced a $2 million community fund that will provide support for women and girls adversely affected by COVID-19.
A further NZ$12 million of support for Fiji’s COVID-19 response has been announced by Foreign Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta.
The Government is backing a $5 million project to develop a commercial-scale autonomous robotic asparagus harvester, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced.
More than a quarter of a million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine are on their way from Spain to New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the harvester being co-funded by the Government will help tackle labour shortages in the asparagus industry and support New Zealand asparagus growers to tap into high value export markets.
“Asparagus production is highly dependent upon seasonal labour to harvest, pack and process the asparagus – and labour for picking and packing accounts for about 50 percent of the costs,” Damien O’Connor said.
“However, attracting and retaining labour to harvest New Zealand asparagus is an ongoing struggle for the industry.
“Introducing robotics into the industry will provide a much-needed production boost, saving time and money, while ensuring the produce is of the highest quality.”
New Zealand asparagus growers mostly supply the domestic market, but this project aims to enable a step change toward exporting, O’Connor said.
SFF Futures is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Through the fund the Government has t co-invested more than $150 million into 157 projects worth almost $299 million in total.
This is a key part of the Government’s cumbersomely labelled Fit for a Better World: Accelerating Our Economic Potential Roadmap.
But National’s Agriculture spokesperson, Barbara Kuriger, meanwhile is claiming that an animal welfare crisis is looming because O’Connor
“… fails to pay attention to what’s going on around him.”
This doesn’t recognise that O’Connor obviously has been paying attention to happenings in the asparagus-growing industry.
But Kuriger’s beef is that the Government won’t allow butcher shops to open during all Covid levels.
She notes that last year, during the first Covid lockdown, the Government spent $5.8 million buying 12,000 pig carcasses from overstocked farms and donating them to charity.
“If they hadn’t done this, we would have had an animal welfare problem of significant scale on our hands.
“Now the issue is looming again in this current lockdown and Minister O’Connor is missing in action.”
Kuriger’s attention had been drawn to a statement by New Zealand Pork chief executive David Baines.
Baines said commercial piggeries typically supplied pigs to market on a weekly basis and couldn’t adapt easily to the closure of butcher shops.
At this time of year, cold storage in New Zealand is largely taken up with frozen Christmas hams, so finding extra space at short notice could be difficult.
Kuriger has seized on this to demand:
“Why have all the same issues from last year cropped up again? Does the Minister have a short memory? Where there is a will, surely there’s a way?
“It seems the Minister simply doesn’t have the will to support butcher shops and address serious animal welfare concerns.”
But Kuriger needs so tell us more to explain why animal welfare concerns are involved.
If pork producers have no storage space, does this not mean they will be disinclined to slaughter their pigs? And if this be so, don’t the pigs get to live another day?