sign uplog in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

The current onslaught against farming is neither enjoyable to be in or observe. But out of it all perhaps there may be a rosy future

The current onslaught against farming is neither enjoyable to be in or observe. But out of it all perhaps there may be a rosy future

The wider environment that farming has to operate in has never been so fraught in the history of New Zealand farming.

The 1980’s certainly had challenges but these were largely constrained to economic issues that spilled over into social change. Being a (very) low equity young farmer at the time, the memory of those times is still very fresh.

But compared to the hurricane of required change coming at farmers currently the 1980’s are starting to feel like a modest gale compared.

The challenges to meet the water quality requirements are just one, and while the government says it is still in the consultative stage, it certainly has the feeling that the first cut of the regulations are going to look very much like what the final draft will look like. While Government has done plenty of U-turns such as with the capital gains tax and the housing program, this one has the look of going ahead - a major reason being that most farmers agree that the scene around water and soil quality does have to change and some of our practices have been unsustainable.

This doesn’t make coming up with new systems to accommodate the regulatory challenges any easier or less stressful. If anything, it perhaps just adds a layer of guilt on us for past practices.

Further to future change, last week I heard a US academic stating he believed that “ animal-based production systems will ultimately be unsustainable in the face of climate change, global population growth and pressure on resources and food security,”

This is not one disruption but many in parallel, with each overlapping, reinforcing, and accelerating the others. 

Focusing on the US and cattle in particular cattle the belief is the costs of production of ‘fake meats’ and milk will/are rapidly dropping and become the norm in animal protein production “triggering a death by a thousand cuts” and leading to US cattle number dropping by 50% by 2030. A summary of the report is:

  • Industry Impacts
    • By 2030, the number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50%. Production volumes of the U.S. beef and dairy industries and their suppliers will be cut by more than half.
    • By 2030, the market for ground beef by volume will have shrunk by 70%, the steak market by 30% and the dairy market by almost 90%. The markets for other cow products (leather, collagen, etc.) are likely to decline by more than 90%. In total, demand for cow products will fall by 70%.
    • By 2030, the U.S. dairy and cattle industries will have collapsed, leaving only local specialty farms in operation.
    • By 2035, demand for cow products will fall by 80%-90% and U.S. beef and dairy industry (and their suppliers) revenues, at current prices, will be down nearly 90%.
    • Farmland values will collapse by 40%-80%.
    • The volume of crops needed to feed cattle in the U.S. will fall by 50% from 155 million tons in 2018 to 80 million tons in 2030, causing cattle feed production revenues, at current prices, to fall by more than 50% from 60 billion in 2019 to less than $30 billion in 2030.
    • Other livestock industries will suffer similar disruptions, while the knock-on effects for crop farmers and businesses throughout the value chain will be severe.
  • Food Cost Savings
    • The cost of modern foods and products will be at least 50% and as much as 80% lower than the animal products they replace, which will translate into substantially lower prices and increased disposable incomes. The average U.S. family will save more than $1,200 a year in food costs, keeping an additional $100bn a year in Americans’ pockets by 2030.
  • Jobs Lost and Gained
    • Half of the 1.2 million jobs in U.S. beef and dairy production (including supply chain), along with their associated industries, will be lost by 2030, climbing toward 90% by 2035.
    • The emerging U.S. modern foods industry will create at least 700,000 jobs by 2030 and up to 1 million jobs by 2035.

While the motivation to develop these technologies is largely driven by profit they are reinforced with the desire to reduce global greenhouse emissions which will provide a compelling marketing story. As anyone who saw or heard the passionate speech by the young Swedish women, Greta Thunberg, at the UN climate change meeting will know, the argument for climate change action is resonating louder and louder.

If the general population can effect change without any major sacrifice on their part but just do a reset of their shopping habits, a large segment are likely to take this option.

These ‘options’ spill over into the animal welfare debate around farming too. Last week saw vegans in New Zealand supermarkets ‘reminding’ consumers that purchasing meat resulted in the death of an animal as if the GHG issues and water quality weren’t enough. On television a new series of ads have begun, this time not aiming at farming but energy use, which is a little easier to take. A million-dollar advertising program, paid for by the government and it certainly will do its bit to keep the issues to the fore.

What does this mean for New Zealand farming?

At the moment farmers are punch drunk, reeling from the flurry of ‘blows’ coming at them and it is inevitable that there are casualties.

Already support groups are concerned about the low morale of the agricultural sector and trying to offer wrap around care where able. The low number of farm sales means at least farmers are not yet being forced of their farms, although there must be many who would welcome a good offer coming down the road, especially as the average age of farmers is up in the top side of 50.

One factor that is different from the 80’s is that at least for most sectors prices are generally good.

If we are able to withstand these early rounds, and adapt, then the potential for New Zealand farming to stand above the stage of their competitors then New Zealand agriculture just may come through this better and more sustainable than ever before.

If land prices drop it may allow a younger generation to come in bringing new ideas that allow a new paradigm to develop.

With the approaching 8 billion population there will still be plenty that desire the ‘real thing’ especially if ‘we’ can show that it is produced in a sustainable way that accounts for welfare and the environment. It is getting this aspect right that will be the challenge.

I’d argue that the meat sector is well onto moving down this pathway, just perhaps the message is not yet being heard above the clamour of noise coming from the opposing groups.

Dairying has a greater need and a greater distance to move and this will provide more economic and system challenges. But there are solutions to many of the issues. They just require time and yes, money and perhaps most importantly a resetting of the mindset.

So, should farmers be despondent, it would be hard not to be. But the challenge is now in their/our court. One good thing; money is cheap and prices adequate so with planning and a vision to what the future could look like means that the future could be rosy, eventually.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Jacinda won't be able to get it off the ground and she'll be gone at tbe next election anyway.
More think big Jacinda BS that will not stick.

As far as I know Jacinda did not write the report but it would be of Interest to know who did.
We can produce fine meats but the transport emissions will always count against us, and buying local food is a global preference.

In the terms of implementation, from Labours list of failures v implimented, I view it as a long shot that anything gets done.

I think the issue is that meat consumption will be falling - fine "meats" and all.

Without providing a reference I read Beyond Meats believe they can only capture half the global market so that leave some traditional meat eaters who can afford expensive cuts.
A problem may be that only a small fraction of a carcase is prime cuts, the rest will be of no value.

Hmmm ..

Food miles are overblown. Shipping food around the world actually on a per-kg basis has very very low emissions - even more so if electric (or hydrogen) trucks come to the fore (Tesla is pursuing this in the US).

Where the real emissions are in food delivery is the last mile - the people driving their car to the supermarket and back again carrying only enough food for their household for a week.

"Shipping food around the world actually on a per-kg basis has very very low emissions - even more so if electric (or hydrogen) trucks come to the fore" - um, the key word there is Shipping.....and container-carrying electric or hydrogen ships are currently (sorry) thin on the - er - ground......

A glance at the net suggests that a container ship can do 10 km for a trucks 1 km expressed in tonne km.
So a 5000 km sea voyage is equivalent to 500 km in a truck.
Then we need to consider the other forms of shipping waste, oil spill, waste waters, running over whales..

Did you read the article Kez...or just skim it and then started punching keyboards at random?

Yes great idea that needs research and a change in dirrection. Can Labour get that done and done simi fast????? Slim to none.

Whats Labour got to do with it????? Trying reading - or are you a anti labour bot set on repeat?

"So, should farmers be despondent, it would be hard not to be. But the challenge is now in their/our court. One good thing; money is cheap and prices adequate so with planning and a vision to what the future could look like means that the future could be rosy, eventually."

Quite right and I think that was the plan in 2010, flood the world with cheap money to lubricate the changes required, of course there will be terrible writedowns

The number reduction in US beef is massive and only over 10 years. I doubt that they will wean the public that fast.
Back here not a lot will change except that Labour will try and push through their projects. Their history on delivery is shocking so I have very little faith that they will actually get anything done. It is also a very good chance that due to that long list of failures they will be out at the next election, so all the hot air now will most likely have been in vain.

Written by a US economist mate!

If you havent worked it out, the current economic model the get rich quick pricks have been advocating for four decades or more is unsustainable and been at the expense of wider society.

What do you think clearing away forests does to the planet! If your ignorance hasn't got it, here a 101 science lesson. Forests absorb carbon dioxide and rain, which without you have flooding and sedimentation of natural water, a hotter planet with more desert conditions. Not great growing conditions to support life in general.

Why dont you get a real job, rather than being a lobbyist troll for the elite. Think about your children and grandchildrens future for a change.

"Dairying has a greater need and a greater distance to move and this will provide more economic and system challenges. But there are solutions to many of the issues"

Except, of course, that some of the most promising 'solutions' are deemed Haram by Them who Know Best. Gene editing, GM'ed pasture components to lower N and methane emissions, sympathetic intensification via barns/robot sheds without massive RMA/consenting/prove-it's-not-gonna-hurt-the-children costs - just some of the possibilities that a saner system would contemplate.

The article's stock photo says it all - that light might yet prove to be the glare from a few hundred thousand torches borne by an oncoming Urban mob, yelling easy slogans and carrying pitchforks......

Farmers of the future may be growing food in a lab rather than out in a field

Two problems right in our face.
In the USA alternative milk has captured nearly %20 of the market in seven years and is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry.

Second in the UK I am told %18 of the population is now Vegetarian/ Vegan. The overwhelming reason for being a herbivore was a belief that they were saving animals from exploitation.

I would hazard a guess that the future growth in going Veggie will not be about saving animals from exploitation but saving humans from starvation. I believe "childfree" or "kidless" is the compliment to giving up meat. No breeding to save the planet - or something like that. No baby formula either.

Cowspiracy is total nonsense dollar-bill, the ultimate in creative accounting:

"Movies like Cowspiracy aren’t believable, not only because of how they twist the science, but also because of what they ask us to believe: that the fossil fuel industry—the ExxonMobils of the world—aren’t the main cause of global warming; that the transition to clean energy isn’t what matters most for our future and our grandchildren’s; and that thousands of scientists have covered up the truth about the most important environmental issue of our time."

This report makes for sombre reading:

#PrecisionFermentation & #FoodAsSoftware will change the future of ag in the next 10 yrs. By 2030, the US dairy & cattle industry will have collapsed & conventional farming production costs will double. More in the report “Rethinking Food & Agriculture”

"Precision fermentation only needs to disrupt 3.3% of the milk bottle - the key functional proteins - to bring about the collapse of the whole cow industry."

Thank you, always good to know the sources

The widespread availability of high protein diets with heavy emphasis on meat is , historically speaking , a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to about 1700 in Britain only the wealthy had regular access to meat. Meat on a regular basis was a prized commodity -- think Beefeaters in the Tower of London. The poor pursued meat when they could but paid a heavy price -- Australia's population was founded on sheepstealers and rabbit poachers. The point being that there will always be plenty of wealthy people prepared to pay for the genuine article. NZ's principal advantage over other production systems is that our animals are grass fed. Pork and poultry require grainfeeding, as do feedlot cattle in other parts of the world. This is where supply chain disruption will occur. It is wasteful and inefficient to divert grain that could be processed for direct human consumption to feed animals that are in turn processed for human consumption. Pronouncements from academics such as the one quoted by Guy usually relate to the American situation of heavy grainfeeding. One wonders if they even realise that grassfed meat is a possibility. Silver Fern Farms is by all reports making significant inroads into the California market with its grassfed beef, and China is taking all the problem cuts ( shins, tails flaps etc ) that it can get its hands on. Our government should be doing all it can to support our producers to capitalise on this heaven sent situation, rather than attempting to penalise them by trying to impose idealistic " back to nature" freshwater standards. The circumstances that existed when NZ's population comprised of a few thousand hunter gatherers are incompatible with a modern society of five millions, and it is unrealistic to try to turn the clock back to that extent.If we applied the same thinking across our daily lives we would do nothing and achieve nothing. At least we can console ourselves to some extent with the thought that there will be two elections before the 2025 start date for the freshwater plan.

"trying to impose idealistic " back to nature" freshwater standards."
Seriously, you object to high standards of water quality?
So bugger the environment, short term economic gain is the only way.
"If we applied the same thinking across our daily lives we would do nothing and achieve nothing."
You actually mean make no money, that being the only useful achievement.
Some of us think leaving the land and our kids in a better state than we were left is a real achievement and bugger the money.

Farmers are living in a previous time. The whole world is being hit with improved environmental and health and safety rulings and they need to recognize that it is not just them that have to improve their performance. The industry that I work in had a complete overhaul after a major event in the late 80's and dinosaurs in the industry who were killing people and willfully polluting the environment had their days numbered from then on with HSE the first consideration on any project with major assets, time and funds being allocated to this. Some projects indeed do not get off the ground because even though they are financially viable they cannot address environmental concerns - was this done re Canterbury conversions, no, the dollars won out.
The ways that were good enough for our fathers and grandfathers are no longer good enough.....

Some people just have no clue, whoever wrote this, is in that category.

The meat and dairy industry have been growing consistently every year since forever. There is no drop off in production, production is still increasing, and that will continue to be the case.

Alternative milks and meat are worse for the environment than the real thing, that news is already starting to leak out. The other thing is that these highly processed fake foods will probably end up causing the next round of new cancers. So, the stupid and uninformed will continue to consume these products, but, then a large percentage of the population are stupid, so, it is not surprising.

The freshwater plan proposes placing the "mana" of instream values ahead of human consumptive needs. There is some doubt about the level of dissolved inorganic nitrogen that complies with the definition of "pristine". I have seen this expressed as .2gm/litre. The plan proposes a new maximum of 1gm/litre. The previous National Policy Statement had a proposed maximum of 6.9gm/litre. If we equate "pristine" with pre-European, and start talking about "Te Mana O Te Wai", then that suggests to me that we are contemplating a giant step backwards to pre -European times. If we adopted the standards and practices of that era we would be doing nothing and achieving nothing, unless you count wearing grass skirts and having a life expectancy of thirty years as achievements. I am not opposed to clean water, I am opposed to unreasonable standards being imposed, and I am opposed to the concept of the needs of fish being put ahead of the needs of people.

The future is bright

Great title, indeed! I won't read the comments, don't wanna ruin my day

I don't believe for one minute that plant alternatives will reduce grocery costs by 50-80% as per the article.

I only see food costs spiralling as a result of these changes. That and also food shortages from driving the very producers we all rely on off productive land once the regulations and taxes make farming an impossible option.

Thanks again Jacinda.

Hope is not a debt reduction strategy.