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Industry farewells NZ Wine Growers Sustainability GM, Philip Manson

After almost two decades as NZ Wine Growers Sustainability General Manager, Philip leaves the business this month, and also steps down as chairman of the interim Fruit Fly Council where he led the development of GIA’s first operational agreement. The GIA Secretariat caught up with Philip before his departure.

Philip Manson has worked for NZ Wine Growers for 18 years. It would be no stretch to say he is regarded as one of the original pioneers in sustainable wine growing in New Zealand. Well-known as being a genuine and down to earth leader with a pragmatic approach, Philip leaves NZ Wine Growers this month after almost two decades in the business, and also steps down as chairman of the interim Fruit Fly Council. The GIA Secretariat caught up with Philip before his departure.

Tell us briefly about your career and how you got to where you are now

I started out working in kiwifruit research for the now defunct Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR)/Hort Research. I spent eight years in this industry before moving to NZ Wine Growers where I have spent the last 18 years. Initially I ran the research and sustainability portfolios for the sector. Over this time, the wine sector has undergone tremendous growth. It has consistently been among New Zealand’s strongest growing export earners, while retaining a vibrant domestic market with a close alignment to tourism.

More recently, as the General Manager Sustainability, I have focused on the advancement of our Sustainable Winegrowing NZ programme which encompasses over 2000 vineyards and winery members, covering about 95% of the producing vineyard area. Sustainability has been a long time interest – it’s seen me representing the sector working with the wider horticultural sector and government on labour issues.

I have also represented the sector’s interests with the Primary Industry Training Organisation (and its predecessor, the Horticulture ITO).

Why is biosecurity so important to NZ Winegrowers, and how you approach it as a peak industry body?

With over 37,000ha planted around the country, vineyards represent an immense investment. Everyday our members participate in the last part of the biosecurity system; they manage the pests and diseases of grapes that are already established in the country. 

The $1.5b export success of the sector to a large measure rests on the quality of our wines. NZ Winegrowers helps protect the competitive position of our members through active involvement across the biosecurity system. This ensures new organisms that can impact on the production of quality grapes (and therefore wine) are not introduced, or are quickly identified and eradicated. An often unseen effect, when a new pest needs to be controlled, is the impact on existing integrated, or biological control management programmes. Alongside our reputation for quality wines, we are recognised as world leaders in sustainable wine production.  

We work with MPI to ensure appropriate measures are implemented on all pathways both pre-border and at the border, to minimise the risk of the introduction of unwanted organisms.  We are also actively involved in the wider partnership across the horticultural sector with government around readiness and response.

Consultation has begun with members to seek mandate to join the GIA partnership. The sector’s ongoing commitment across the biosecurity system with the aim to achieve effective biosecurity outcomes has recently been strengthened by the appointment of a full-time biosecurity manager, Dr Edwin Massey. Ed brings a wealth of experience from his previous roles with MPI’s biosecurity team.  

Tell us about your role as Fruit Fly Council Chair and how this came about

I was actively involved in the development of GIA – I was the sector’s representative through the workshop and design stages. Given the importance of fruit flies across the wider horticulture sector and the existence of a well-established programme, it was decided by all parties that an operational agreement (OA) for fruit fly should be first cab off the rank.

Although it is accepted that wine grapes are not impacted in a major way by fruit fly, NZ Winegrowers felt it was important to support, and be engaged with development of this first OA. I was elected as the Chair because I was foolish enough to leave the room to attend a conference call. In reality, I suspect I was elected on the basis that we were a major sector, but one recognised as being unlikely to be a future participant in the agreement, so I was in a position to provide leadership that was relatively impartial.

What were some of the challenges along the way of putting together the OA?

Developing the OA has been a complex and protracted process. It has involved a lot of discovery by all participants about the detailed requirements around management of readiness and response of just one group of unwanted pests. The level of detail and openness brought to the table by all parties has been, in my view, unprecedented. This has been critical to the development of the OA.  

It would be wrong to say there haven’t been some challenging hurdles in the development of the OA. However, I have been impressed by the commitment within the Council to negotiate in good faith and to seek compromise where it is needed, and accept non-negotiable elements when they have arisen.

One of the most challenging aspects to date, and I suspect for the near future, is the need for culture change in the organisational structures of all parties. The partnership established under GIA means that MPI are no longer solely responsible for decisions relating to readiness and response for fruit fly, and it will take time to work through what that means in terms of engagement with GIA partners. Likewise, the sectors have in the past had a more adversarial role with MPI. As a result of not being informed, or having active participation the only path has been to be vocal to ensure you are being heard.

The development of the OA, and more broadly the GIA, has been to some extent like negotiating the terms of a future relationship. Now that the ink is dry on the first OA, it is time to get on with a genuine partnership. This is already starting to happen but will take on-going commitment and culture change by all parties to make it work.  

GIA is about Government and industry working together in partnership – in your view is this realistic?  

For our sector, involvement in GIA is about actively protecting our investment. GIA is the way government has provided for sectors to be active partners in the readiness and response area. It is early days for GIA, but if experience to date is anything to go by, there is a positive future as genuine partnerships become functional. Each sector needs to make their own evaluation of the benefits of joining GIA. There will be costs to get involved, but in many cases, these will be outweighed by the benefit of being an active partner in GIA.   

How do you see GIA changing the way biosecurity is managed in New Zealand? What is Winegrowers position on GIA?

Over time, GIA will be a good model for engagement on the readiness and response components of the biosecurity system. Having the key parties, both sectors and MPI around the table working on collective goals can only be positive. Establishing processes and actions in advance of emergencies will be the key to being able to act quickly and effectively together when under pressure from an incursion.

Without doubt, the partnerships formed under GIA will spill over into greater communication and involvement across the rest of the biosecurity system. This is a critical part of building trust between GIA partners, and will provide the opportunity to enhance our already robust biosecurity system and maximise the effect of the limited resources we all have.    

What’s next for you?

I am passing the biosecurity baton on to Edwin Massey. He is already running full steam ahead. I am taking the opportunity to have a very long overdue trip overseas, and will then evaluate opportunities to consult in areas of expertise I have developed over the years. 

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