For want of a name our agriculture flounders


Every story has a name – except the one which describes our agriculture.

This, I argue, is one of the reasons we struggle to tell people around the world and in our cities about what exactly is and has been the basis of our farming’s comparative advantage for the past 130 years.

Let me provide an example.

We don’t start a story with: ‘This is about a wolf and a little girl and a grandmother who lives alone.”

No, we start, “This is the story of Little Red Riding Hood.”

From that basis the rest of the story can unfold. In a sense it doesn’t matter if some of the order, the details and nuances get a bit mixed up. Everything can hover under the banner of the name of the story.

At the same time, though there may be many variations on the story (does the wolf eat the grandmother, or does he lock her in a cupboard), it is still the story of Little Red Riding Hood. It is a story of good versus bad, and a girl with a red jacket that has an inbuilt hood.

Moving into the real world, we see countries that have earned a name for something they do extremely well.

Thus, no one has an argument about the idea of German engineering excellence, or Italian design flair or a Japanese minimalist Zen aesthetic.

Even though these are a generic name, built on the products and services which reinforce the truism of the name; they reinforce the story. The story is one of clever people, applied thinking, a certain style. It is part and parcel of those particular countries’ ethos.

However, we, NZ Inc, haven’t even managed such a generic name. The New Zealand method, or grass fed, or (the meaningless) natural don’t describe, don’t resonate, don’t provide consumers with a compelling shorthand that allows them to think “ah, I know what this is, where it comes from, what it represents”.

Instead, our wonderful products, the result of applied science to sunshine, soil and fresh air, are lumped with all the other commodity meats and fibres.

And all this because we have never given what we do a name or brand (which is merely shortand for the story).

This is why I argue that the moment we name our method is the instant we totally reposition ourselves in the minds of consumers, and give ourselves a strategic platform to upsell everything from animal genetics to electric fences (as well as the method itself) to other farmers around the world.

From that point on, we allow ourselves to play a completely different game.

But maybe I’m talking through the proverbial hole in my head. Or am I?

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About sticknz

sticK is by Peter Kerr, a writer for hire. I have a broad science and technology background and interest, with an original degree in agricultural science. My writing speciality is making the complex understandable. I am available for outside consultancy work, and for general discussions of converting a good idea into something positive
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6 Responses to For want of a name our agriculture flounders

  1. While I empathise with the poor agriculture of New Zealand, I have to say that it is far from unique. In fact, it is the very basic agriculture, the way all farming started. Herd animals wandering around, shepherded from field to field, pastoral agriculture. In most of the world, pastoralists are walking along defined paths from season to season. Transhumance, parcours, etc are terms used in Europe and Africa to describe this seasonal migration from the top of the mountains to the valleys, and vice-versa. New Zealand brought it to an art, forgetting the seasonal aspect of it for the dairy industry, and creating a sophisticated management system on highly specialised farms. This “NZ way” is being exported to South America, where conditions are similar (rain and seasons mostly).
    New Zealand will make a name for itself when the agriculture will be able to label itself “sustainable”. That is the real challenge, one that should be embraced by all the primary industries of the country.

    • sticknz says:

      Absolutely agree. And naming our NZ way, would almost immediately mean we had to make sure those (relatively small) bits that aren’t as squeaky clean as we’d desire, do become so.

      The opportunity to own the idea and ideal still exists – are we brave enough to accept the challenge?

  2. Pingback: Rural round-up « Homepaddock

  3. BDB inc says:

    The challenge to be sustainable?
    Or the challenge to put NZ’s agriculture in words, blocking words like Agriddle : middle of the agricultural road, not the top and not the bottom, having hairy feet with which prince charles is fetishly obsessed with.

    I

  4. Kane says:

    In many parts of the world agriculture has become a high tech optimised industrial process. Agriculture here in NZ is merely less un-sustainable than the more advanced forms, but is still far from ‘conventional’ farming. Conventional being the organic, seasonal, traditional form.

    New Zealand’s much touted Dairy industry is based on the copious application of fossil fuel derived nitrogen, North African phosphate, imported Palm kernel feed and over-allocated water resources to a historically relatively lifeless soil growth medium. Actually I could have paused at the fossil fuels bit; Dairying in New Zealand is the large scale conversion of fossil fuel and electricity into dehydrated milk solids. Every step in the process is energy intensive, and now there is mounting pressure for the irreversible conversion to GM rye and clover pastures.

    Should we step up and Brand it?
    Look at us, buy from us!!…we are less un-sustainable, less advanced, for now following a path of tangential Agri-ludditism… but we’re not really special in any way, just geographically gifted in soil, water and climate if not market proximity.
    Definitely a far cry from the GE free/organic/biologic farming Brand we could have been shouting from the roof tops.

    • sticknz says:

      I think we are pretty seasonal, though agree that dairying pushes some of the limits.

      I’m not sure how to retain a nutrient balance without fertiliser – indeed from that point of view, organic might be considered unsustainable too.

      What ‘we’ as a country do need to have is a debate about where we as a country, as a means of production pitch ourselves.

      Maybe it would just be rubbish to regard ourselves as being global custodians of responsible pastoralism – but better to discuss it that attempt to fudge it.

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