Guy Trafford lays out a specialist approach that some parts of NZ agriculture are turning to, and notes that Fonterra recently seems to be pulling back from seeking high-end margins

Guy Trafford lays out a specialist approach that some parts of NZ agriculture are turning to, and notes that Fonterra recently seems to be pulling back from seeking high-end margins

Agriculture is being bombarded by a plethora of reports and conferences highlighting, if not impending doom, then at least a bumpy road ahead.

Recently Christchurch hosted the Grow 2019: the Boma NZ Agri Summit a futurist look at where agriculture could or should be going. Multiple drivers are making conferences such as this more relevant than ever before.

One compelling fact is that the world needs to produce more food in the next 30 years than has been produced in the total of agriculture’s past. In conjunction with this agriculture needs to be conducted in a sustainable way to preserve our resources and maintain lifestyles.

The way forward to use a term borrowed from UNESCO by Rod Oram is the Sixth Wave where production will not only be sustainable (because it has to be) but also restorative. The challenge is going to do this while meeting the challenge of laboratory grown food, be it meat or milks which can be produced/manufactured for a fraction of the cost and resources of existing foods.

Some believe using GM or GE in the production system is the way to go. In my view if we adopt this path we have already lost the race.

Our only competitive advantage in the future will be producing food that doesn’t come out of a petrie dish or Frankenstein’s lab or modified by man as with GE be it real or only a perception.

While this may seem to be overstating the case, it is consumers who hold these views about the mass manufacturing of food (I find it difficult to call it production) that are going to be the ‘discerning consumers’ of the future to be courted for New Zealand agriculture. Whether the food production is meat and milk based as it is at present or whether it is taken over by horticulture and arable products will largely be determined by the market but the purity of these products should be decided by New Zealanders who have a goal of producing the best possible ‘natural’ food that obtains the highest return possible and if that means only supplying the most discerning 1% so be it.

In reality, New Zealand will really only need to supply about the top 0.2% of the world population to utilise most of our production.

This is reassuring as the majority of consumers (despite much of their rhetoric within broad guidelines, i.e. it is safe, doesn’t destroy the earth and meets nutritional needs) will go for cost every time especially if finances are tight and there are competing needs for it and lets face it that is the vast majority.

Competing on cost with new ‘manufactured‘ foods will be a waste of time.

However, shortening the value chain to get more back to the producer will be essential as will be being able to promote ‘our’ point of difference.

Beef and Lamb NZ seem to understand this stance and are moving their marketing approach in the right direction.

Fonterra in their back to basics and seemingly sticking to the commodities route seem to be stuck in a time warp which is likely to se see them left behind. Hopefully, the current phase they are working through will just be a temporary pause to allow them to catch their breath before moving on into the new world.

The advantage New Zealand has, at least for the moment, is a story that other producers cannot match, and it is the story that that the 0.2%ers are looking to spend their money on. Everything else will be able to be purchased at a fraction of the price.

New Zealanders have a choice, “leave it to the market” as an ex-politician was overheard muttering, or be proactive, create a strategy and drive it forward from the paddock up.

In my view leaving it to the market is a very risky proposition.

New Zealand has seen good markets undermined from within, foreign governments erect trade barriers and New Zealand sacrifice long term gains for short term benefits.

For agriculture to remain as a or the key driver of our economy it is going to take a cohesive approach with clear objectives, and they need to be able to benefit all. Then we will have a story to sell to the world. Minister for Primary Industries Damien O’Connor appears to understand this based upon his rhetoric, so with the budget approaching it is now time for the government to show some leadership beyond the rhetoric and start getting some runs on the board.

With a recent report showing that 92% of farmers are focusing on making their farms more environmentally sustainable and most agreeing that climate change is occurring and mankind has had or does have a role in this shows that farmers are in the right headspace to accept the challenges coming at them going forward.

They will need to be as these challenges are going to come thick and fast.

P2 Steer

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Did they talk at all about the EAT-Lancet Commission report just recently released? Here's the summary report;

And here's a link to a summary video presentation;

This Commission have asked all those same questions - done a ton of research - and plotted the way forward. We just need to use it as the basis of our agricultural transformation.

And the Government need to regulate for our transition to regenerative agricultural systems;

From what I can gather, it is understood and practiced by a number of farmers here already;

We really can't afford to transition on a voluntary basis - we need to regulate farming practices and make this transition with a goal/end date for completion by say 2025/2030.

Time to stop fluffing around. I agree, we only need to produce high quality products for an elite/discerning customer base.

This is a great point, red meat is the real culprit in peoples diet, sugary and trans-fatty foods wouldn't be an issue if people stopped eating meat.
Spending a lifetime at University and lecturing is the best way to become an expert, hopefully government forces everyone to exactly follow the experts. The world needs more food, and converting a farm that only used to run 600 cows, into a farm that now runs 1000 sheep is clearly a huge step in the right direction. That is a 66% increase in numbers, think about it!

Edit: Whoops, totally missed the humour in my original comment.

Sarcasm in response to the critical issue of sustainable food production is sad. I suspect you might hold the mindset that believes that, given the world needs more food, commercial agriculture has a moral license to pollute to produce it?

Well it doesn't. And food production needn't be a choice between either having enough food or having a healthy environment.

I have no idea what you rudimentary animal count above means - so your attempt at sarcasm only serves to display an example of simple-mindedness.

I assume your key objection is to government regulating agricultural production. At the moment, what government seems to me to be focusing on is regulating synthetic nitrogen inputs to that production system. I don't think that serves our agricultural industry well. Prior incentives put in place by government (i.e., subsidies associated with the right to pollute; subsidies associated with the right to take and store water, etc.) are responsible for the unhappy situation we find ourselves in.

I'm not a farmer but I believe government, being responsible for incentivising intensive farming, needs to do more for farmers to assist (and in some aspects subsidise) the transition (back) to sustainable farming practices. So, yes, they need to regulate a more holistic approach, recognising that the farm is an ecosystem, not a factory. Simply addressing one aspect of that factory production (artificial nutrient inputs) just isn't fair to farmers to my mind. As a producer nation, we got ourselves addicted to synthetic nitrogen - we need a more holistic drug rehab programme for our farming sector.

In relation to the first link I thought the sarcasm was well placed. The summary came up with nothing practical, especially in relation to NZ primary sector, we simply do not use the same amount of large scale crop production to produce animal protein as is practiced elsewhere. And that leads nicely to where the opening article went, we do have differences that are about all we can leverage off because we cannot compete with the massive production scales used elsewhere and often reliant on GM and massive chemical use.
Was reading an article on wool the other day, I love wool there's no synthetic that comes close. But reading some of the comments accompanying the article our biggest problem with our production is combating the complete ignorance of many consumers. Many thought cotton a much more environmentally positive product.

We simply do not use the same amount of large scale crop production to produce animal protein as is practiced elsewhere.

Well, no we don't. Instead we lather our land with synthetic fertilizer as the means to grow the large scale grass crop to produce that animal protein.

To my mind you and Guy are right, "we cannot compete with the massive production scales used elsewhere" but that's pretty much exactly what we are doing in terms of dairy production in particular.

Care to expand on your last statement Kate. How are we doing that?

Do you not think of NZ as a mass producer of dairy products?

As we only produce 2% of the world's dairy, no I don't think we are a mass producer of dairy products, in global terms Kate. We are the largest exporter of WMP but Fonterra alone, makes over 1000 different products.

We're the 8th largest dairy producing nation in the world;
Fonterra is the world's 5th largest dairy company in the world;
AND, as agrarian-based economies go, we are the highest consumer of fertilizer per hectare of arable land.

I think we have all the signs of being a mass producer of dairy products and I haven't even needed to mention our water quality or our GHG emissions profile.

We may be the 8th largest, but we still only produce 2.6% of the worlds milk. We produced 21568T in 2016 compared to total world milk of 810252T.
Check out page 4.
Fonterra is the 5th largest dairy company by revenue
Interestingly Singapore is the highest consumer of fertilizer per ha of arable land at 30237.9kg/ha compared to NZ 1777.2.

In NZ in 2016 Sheep and beef farming was the main agricultural use (31.9 percent of total land), followed by dairying (9.8 percent of total land).

CO, I said "as agrarian-based economies go, we are the highest consumer of fertilizer per hectare of arable land." Are you now claiming Singapore to be an agrarian economy? For goodness sake, stop attempting to minimise our present nitrogen addiction.

And of course dairying uses a smaller land footprint than sheep and beef - that's precisely why it is such a disaster where our waterways are concerned. We don't graze and milk the cows atop the hills in some back block do we?

I find it interesting that Singapore has such a high use of fertilisers given it isn't considered an agrarian economy. So what does it use the fertiliser for? It makes one question the robustness of the criteria of the dataset.
You might be surprised what land cows are milked on Kate. ;-) Applied nitrogen is not the issue for dairy it is urine nitrogen that is the issue. Work is underway to reduce nitrogen in urine using different forage systems.
All dairying is not a disaster where our waterways are concerned. Neither is nitrogen the No1 issue in allwaterways - sediment and e-coli are often greater real concerns, and P in peat and non dairy areas. That said, it doesn't mean that in some waterways the nitrogen trends are increasing, just as some are decreasing. We need to get away from broad brush comments in regards to waterways and look at water quality on a catchment/FMU scale. There is no one size fits all, issue, just as there is no one size fits all, solution. In Southland where dairy is approx 35% of land use, nitrogen is not the over arching problem.

"Historically, superphosphate and potash fertilisers have been the backbone of New Zealand agriculture, and remain so today. In the last decades, with increasing areas of highly productive, intensive farming, the use of nitrogen fertiliser has increased.
Most nitrogen is applied to dairy and arable/horticulture land. Improved production methods and an increasing emphasis on environmental accountability have led to marked improvements in production per unit of nitrogen applied. These improvements in efficient and effective use of fertiliser and other nutrient sources are likely to continue as research and development evolves."

We need to get away from broad brush comments in regards to waterways and look at water quality on a catchment/FMU scale.

Sure, what needs to be done regarding land use change will vary catchment-by-catchment, but that doesn't affect what the standards should be. They can be set nationally.

I think that's where the Government is heading - a far less flexible and non-ambiguous NPS on Freshwater. I suspect the compromise for agriculture on GHGs/ETS being hashed out on the Zero Carbon Act/Bill at the moment, is the precursor to that.

In other words, the Government doesn't want to deliver two blows at the same time - and with stricter water quality regulation, stock numbers in some catchments will decrease anyway (thus reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions). It's a win-win.

BTW - here's the stats on synthetic nitrogen use/growth over the years here;

New Zealand has become an enthusiastic user of synthetic nitrogen. We used around 6000t of nitrogen fertilisers every year in the 1960s; that increased to around 50,000t by 1990; Today, we use 500,000t, an increase of 1000 per cent within three decades. It has been matched by similar increases in dairy exports and dairy cow numbers.

And here's how pathetic the current national standard is:

The creek's average nitrogen levels are around 10 times the trigger level for nuisance algal growth, which is a pass under national standards, which set the bottom line around 12 times that level. This has been likened to having a drink driving limit set at the point where alcohol becomes poisonous, not the much lower levels in which it impairs driving.

That first highlighted quote stating nitrogen increased by 1000% within 3 decades has been matched by similar increases in dairy cow numbers is wrong according to Stats NZ.The total number of dairy cattle increased 68.6 percent, from 3.84 million in 1994 to 6.47 million in 2017. However, from 2012 this increase slowed to 0.45 percent (up 28,826 in 2017 from 6.45 million in 2012) 68.6% is a vastly different number to 1000%.
Any water quality test is simply what that water body was at that particular time on a given day. It is trends that show what is happening to water over time. It is noted that though the article references the Hinds River it fails to clarify that both Petries Drain and Rhodes Stream are tributaries of the Orari, not the Hinds River.
Current LAWA data available for both Petries Drain and Rhode Creek referred to in your quoted article

Land use change is already happening especially in Northland and the Waikato where dairy land is being sold for horticulture.
Given Wellbeing criteria is to be applied to environmental regulation it will be interesting to see what is happens. ;-)

My vision for land use change, might be for one agricultural activity to another as you suggest (provided the alternate activity requires less man-made/synthetic inputs), but it also includes land use change from an(y) agricultural activity to a natural state.

Oh, and we are producing 2.6% of the world's milk on .3% of the world's habitable land.

Here's a great article just out today about the 'status quo' approach to regulation at the moment;

As the Fed Farmers guy states,

"Our members acknowledge there is a need for change in environmental regulations to improve water quality in some local catchments... [but we need to raise money to legally fight the needed regulatory transition] so farming can continue to be a viable industry in Southland."

I'd rather sit them down and ask what action would your individual members need to take in order to meet these regulatory requirements? What is the shortfall (loss) in profitability as a result of meeting these regulatory requirements? How can we (the government) cover that shortfall in the short-term whilst also finding and assisting in the re-generation of lost revenue in the longer term?

Then no one needs to spend good money on a legal appeal process that doesn't grow a single mouthfull of food.

It's not that simple Kate. In some cases Feds are a Section 274 party. It is the Court who said mediation is off the table, not Feds.

You miss my point altogether. From the article,

Federated Farmers identified 27 aspects of the plan that may adversely affect farming in Southland.

Well yes, plans that seek to achieve sustainable management of our land and water resources will of course adversely affect farming in our business-as-usual sense. What Fed Farmers needs to do is accept that there will be adverse impacts as these new plans are rolled out - rather than appeal/fight them tooth and nail as a means to preserve BAU. Had they lodged no appeals they would not be a s274 party or any kind of party to the appeal proceedings. They could instead be directing both their money and their efforts at assisting their members by fundraising to meet the shortfalls in profit on the most affected member properties and helping them along with the transition to a more sustainable use of their land and assets.

In other words, Fed Farmers need to forget resistance - it's a waste of time and money - and it doesn't grow a single mouthful of food.

Have you read their appeal Kate? It's not all resistance - some is for clarification such as definition of feed pad/lot - you may see this as a waste of time but it can have a significant effect on farming business in a practical application. If Feds have 1000 members its only $300 per member to raise the 300k. Is it also a waste of financial resources for DoC(taxpayer funded), Fish and Game (levy funded), Forest and Bird (membership/donation funded) to also appeal?

Nope, haven't read the appeal because I accept that regulation to improve our waterways will have a significant effect on farming business in a practical application. DoC, F&G and F&B probably wouldn't need to appeal either if the farming lobby weren't so literally stuck-in-the-mud (and the past).

You really don't have any idea what you are talking about when it comes to the specifics of the appeals and why they are happening - whose stuck-in-the-mud (and the past) Kate with their views on farmers? It's not the appellants to the Southland Water and Land Plan. Its called democracy in action. Given the regional council submitted against its own plan shows that even they don't believe they get it right all the time.

"For anyone who might think that the recommendations from the recent 'EAT-Lancet consortium' study represent a 'healthy' diet for humanity (let alone whether it could be sustainable for the planet), this very prompt analysis from Zoe Harcombe (Ph.D in public health and nutrition) shows otherwise.

Using figures from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) all-food database, she shows that in fact, the so-called 'EAT' diet is seriously nutritionally deficient, as it would fail to provide recommended daily intakes of Vitamins B12, A, D and K, sodium, potassium, iron and calcium, as well as the long-chain omega-3 fats needed for a healthy brain, heart and immune system.

It is also notable that for a supposedly 'plant-based' diet, the 'EAT diet' includes a fairly low proportion of calories from actual vegetables and fruits, and is instead dominated by the grains and seed oils that already predominate in modern, western-type diets and dietary guidelines (Might this possibly reflect the interests of some of the industrial sponsors working with the 'EAT Foundation'?)"


"The Lancet is a highly respected biomedical journal that rightly carries a lot of clout in the scientific community. That's what makes its recent turn toward sensationalism and clickbait so incredibly odd.

We first noticed that something was strangely amiss in 2017 when the editor-in-chief of The Lancet praised Karl Marx in a bizarre editorial. The piece made multiple dubious claims, such as, "Medicine and Marxism have entangled, intimate, and respectable histories." The 100 million (or so) graves of the victims of communism beg to differ.

Then, in 2018, The Lancet went on an ideological bender against alcohol. First, it hyped a study that purportedly showed that every additional glass of alcohol above roughly 5 per week decreases a person's life expectancy by 15 to 30 minutes. Think about that for a minute. Many people around the world have a nightly glass of wine with dinner. In The Lancet's opinion, that's precisely two too many, and anyone who does that is slowly killing themselves.

When a scientist reaches an absurd conclusion, that should serve as a warning to take a closer look at the methodology, the data, or both. Instead, The Lancet decided to double down. Later that year, it published a study that declared that any alcohol whatsoever is bad for your health. Somebody, please notify the French.

This year, the weirdness continued. A paper in The Lancet argued that certain food experts should be banned from food policy discussions. (Of course, the experts that should be banned are any that are associated with industry, because industry = bad.) And then, The Lancet slandered surgeons, using shady statistics to blame them for killing millions of people every year. The study was so bad that our typically calm, cool, and collected Dr. Charles Dinerstein worried that his head would explode."

It's also worth noting:

A glamorous billionaire who jets around the world in her £20 million private plane has been dubbed a hypocrite for funding a report which says people must only eat a quarter of a rasher of bacon a day.

Gunhild Stordalen, who funds a campaign to save the planet by drastically cutting meat consumption, has been slammed by critics who point out her globetrotting adventures increase air traffic pollution - a major driver of global warming.

The Norwegian Model-turned-doctor, 40, bankrolled the EAT-Lancet study which controversially unveiled daily quotas such as no more than a 2p-sized beef burgers and a quarter of a chicken breast.

Your source is known to be pro-industry - likely far less objective than the Lancet publication;

I did enjoy the article claiming the Lancet to have turned 'weird' :-).

We cannot carry on with the dietary status quo - the epidemic of diabetes. Treatments will become unaffordable for the masses. Dietary change is the only way.

This just today on 1News;

Sure there's definitely problems with the modern lifestyle especially bad diet and lack of exercise.

As far as diet is concerned, highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates (especially sugar and high-fructose corn syrup) are the main problem.

They are. But the point EAT-Lancet make is that globally the world needs more healthy food choices - which means getting increased proteins and nutrients from fruit, nuts and legumes, which are some of the most expensive of foods at the moment. Hence, lift volume and processing/productivity in the growing of those, as opposed to the current focus of production (and the capital works to support that production) on meat proteins and carbohydrates/starches. At least that's what I took from the study. It's more about supplying the amount of food needed within planetary boundaries - and growing animal proteins breaches those boundaries (has more biophysical impacts) than plant proteins.

Soy milk has been around for decades and is much cheaper and healthier than so called 'milk'. With all the positive benefits of higher estrogen from soy products, and the toxic masculinity that comes from testosterone, it's no wonder people are steer-ing clear of red meat which increases testosterone level.

Someone woke up on the sarcastic side of the bed. :)

Well, if we haveta forego food stuffs from sources "modified by man" then we haveta kiss goodbye to:

And we obsess over a little GE here and there.....and now that CRISPR is a kitchen-sink-applicable technology, who is gonna be able to tell when the next 'mutation' stumbles into the gene pool and whence?

I think Guy's point was NZ shouldn't attempt to compete on the GE/artificial/mass foods production platform. So he's not suggesting or advocating that the world needs to kiss goodbye to these technologies - just that NZ ought to go down the marketing path of a GE-free USP.

They're starting to come around. There's still the 'business' assumption and still the 'we need to feed x billion by y date, but it's on the way.

I don't think anyone has a handle on how big the mrph will be, though. Nine-to-noon just had a lame one - right about land vanishing under tract housing, perhaps not so right about lifestyle blocks. I suspect the Royal Society is about where thoughtful farming is; not quite there yet. Nobody is addressing fossil fuel absence, nor financial melt-down, yet the two are better than odds-on to happen in less than a decade.

I'll have to listen to the RNZ piece - what did they say about lifestyle blocks? Environment Aotearoa 2019 mentioned this in the summary information;

The fringes of our urban areas are increasingly being fragmented – broken into smaller land parcels – and sold as lifestyle blocks. The number of lifestyle blocks has increased at an average of 5,800 new blocks a year since 1998.
A 2013 study found that 35 percent of Auckland’s versatile land (highest class soils) was used as lifestyle blocks.

Yes, I agree - there is growing recognition in wider NZ about unsustainable practices. And I also agree, we generally are not yet there in admitting/accepting just how big the morph will be.

Lifestyle blocks are merely seen as a big 'waste' of land, per house. For some, that is true. But beyond fossil fuels (and that ain't far away, well inside the near lifetime of existing housing) more people per acre of food production will become the norm. As will 'local' food production.

So an acre or 5 per house, is no bad ratio (if arable/sunny). The bigger headache will be feeding the citified - who won't be 'earning'. But RNZ generally is dropping the ball, truth-telling-wise, and more so as time goes on. Not that they're the only ones!

"Some of the top companies currently listed in the US Vegan Climate Index include Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Apple, Microsoft and Facebook."
Four of the most consumerist companies ever. The only reason they're able to get into this index is because they produce and provide nothing of actual value while using slave labour to do it. I guess vegans will just have to survive on a diet of 0s and 1s.

lol - I reckon vegans in NZ are subject to more ridicule than environmentalists in NZ :-).

Going vegetarian or vegan only works if you've got a programme to reduce population. And, when you track it right back, to reduce energy consumption to sustainable levels as well. Otherwise you're only extending the time-line (and in the face of exponential growth, you're extending it for about five minutes) to overshoot-induced collapse, population-wise.

Indeed, the EAT-Lancet study assumes a growing population - but then at the moment for such a study, I think that is the only credible variable to insert - given the PTB are still backing/planning for GDP growth, and pumping up money as debt to achieve it. Whilst they are still pumping, I suspect population will continue to grow (unless a microorganism intervenes).

Your talking about birth control powerdownkiwi or better still selective breeding based on genetic profiles would be better, however this will never fly and you will be compared to Hitler. Even complete madmen still have the odd good idea. The population is destined to run out of control, overshoot and then collapse, its inevitable because even though we think we are an advanced species, we are really pretty stupid on the galactic scale.