Navigating the Grey – Exploring Opportunities in Times of Uncertainty

The national conference of the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management (NZIPIM) brought together rural professionals from across Aotearoa New Zealand to explore relevant topics and consider leading edge ideas. Our Food and Fibre sector is faced with high levels of uncertainty as we transition to a low-emissions economy, face changing freshwater management regulation, navigate potential financial effects if the Reserve Bank changes holding capital requirements for our banks and so much more. Whilst it is agreed that change is coming and farm systems will begin to shift, the pathway is still very much unknown.

Food production for healthy people and planet

Lain Jager of the Primary Sector Council (a working group formed by Minister Damien O’Connor to create a vision for NZ Food and Fibre) noted during his presentation that 75% of the global food supply comes from the top 12 grains and 5 major meats. What will it be in 30 years? As New Zealand considers a changing climate and its place in the global food supply chain, it’s important to think about and educate ourselves on the trends defining what the future of food could look like and what consumer preferences might be. Simultaneously, we must consider the environment and our planetary boundaries, to ensure that we are regenerating our environment, not just “sustaining” it. Even if consumer demand does exist, we cannot move beyond our planetary boundaries to meet that demand so we have to work together to design and produce what is next…

Moving from “what” to “how”

Meeting the future wants and needs of consumers presents an exciting opportunity within value-add for our food producers. Susan Kilsby of ANZ spoke about the importance of creating real value with emotional and sustainable attributes instead of just focusing on more practical aspects of products, such as “grass-fed” – this means moving from “what” we produce to “how” we produce it. She noted that although there is space for alternatives, the middle class is growing and the niche market for New Zealand meat will not go away. An analysis published in Stuff by Esther Taunton reviewed the emissions footprint per kilogram of meat and per litre of dairy produced and found that New Zealand is below the global averages for beef and lamb and has a 60% lower emissions for dairy. New Zealand is well placed to not only lead the world in food production that regenerates the environment, but to also consider our land use, the value we are able to gain from different farming systems and what the best uses of that land is in the future.

Gerard Hickey, co-founder of First Light shared their journey to create the world’s first grass-fed Wagyu beef and how they have been able to capture more value for their farmers by controlling more of the value chain. Gina Lucci from AgResearch presented Our Land and Water research findings that showed the potential of credence attributes such as carbon zero or organic to increase value for farmers. Lain Jager also highlighted the growth of the horticulture sector and although it is off a small base, there is still a major opportunity for growth in high value crops such as wine, apples, pears and kiwifruit.

What’s next for Brand NZ?

The future is uncertain, but it is also an exciting time to consider possibilities and think about what “Brand NZ” could look like in the future – it is our time to design and co-create that future. The examples above highlight that there is not one answer but many pathways to both meet consumer needs and deliver high value for our food producers. “Regenerative” or “restorative” were noted as better alternatives to “sustainable,” which has been arguably overused. Going back to basics to unlock natural food systems and patterns that honour the physical, social and intergenerational values of mahika kai that Mananui Ramsden of Environment Canterbury shared, such as the importance of respecting the mana of all, will help to empower communities and the environment as we look to optimise land use.

The Primary Industries must continue to grow at least 2% per year to maintain its place in the New Zealand economy. Outstanding leadership is required to drive the sector and help our food producers navigate uncertain and unknown pathways.  The questions for all of us to work together on…

What is the future of food in brand NZ? Who are our future consumers and where will they be living?  How do we understand the changing demographics?  What is our future food landscape and what will we be growing and producing? How will we share stories of our amazing food producers with the world? What will be our point of difference? What other opportunities might there be to create more value for our food producers?  What are the new business model’s that allow us to reshape our competitiveness!

Victoria StarkComment