There are huge gains to be made in pastoral farming productivity if the average performers started doing what the top 25% do according to MAF in its Briefing to Incoming Ministers.
That would increase exports by $3 billion a year, just using existing knowledge.
Now, as MAF sees it, we’re missing considerable opportunities. The report says “The problem arises from a complex mix of capabilities, infrastructure, investment, incentives and social factors across a broad range of industry participants.”
If this is shorthand for the fact that average age of sheep and beef farmers is now 58 and rising (see here), and, those very same farmers have continually pushed up the price of land beyond its actual productive value, then MAF’s dead right. Indeed, there’s a demographic time bomb – and as the ANZ bank says in the above article, we’ve lost a generation.
One thing that the MAF BIM doesn’t mention, and to be fair it is probably a bridge too far for a bureaucrat, is that farming ain’t sexy.
This is in spite of the fact that the range of skills – biological, financial, management, (increasingly) IT – that need to be cleverly combined to turn a profit from the land, this and agriculture’s wider story doesn’t resonate with the general public nor with young people.
There is one simple reason.
Farming, the way we do it, doesn’t have a name.
That is, we take sunshine, soil and fresh air and make wonderful protein products. We work in harmony with nature, using all the skills mentioned above, and generally, sustainably, make fantastic raw materials that become desirable food and fibre.
While those in the agriculture industry may be aware of this wider ecosystem approach, others, including overseas consumers, haven’t a clue.
And, as design guru Dorenda Britten says, “you can’t buy into something until you name it.”
New Zealand agriculture’s key comparative advantage is its understanding and utilisation of pastoral production systems. This fantastic transformation of solar energy, the utter underpinning of our economy, is formless and vague.
To the vast majority of Kiwi’s, though agriculture’s stolid, it’s about as sexy as dirt.
But when you realise that once overseas consumers are aware of how NZ produces the majority of its milk, meat and fibre, they are immediately converts to what is effectively “the way you’d farm if you farmed yourself.”
New Zealand Inc needs to wake up to the fact that our farming is much more that a way to produce food. Standing back and looking at big picture, we’re a conceptual ideal.
However, until we name (which is the same as branding) our system, the issues identified by MAF won’t have a hope in hell of being resolved.
Until we own our story (and a brand is merely shorthand for the story) there will be nothing for young people to buy into – or to even consider the possibility of being able to have a fulfilling life by making money by using land wisely.
Now, this may be an innovative leap that a production-oriented mindset finds difficult to conceive.
Nevertheless, to be part and parcel of a modern consumer and young person’s mind we need to reconceive our agriculture as being as much of an ‘experience’ rather than as an item that somehow ends up on your plate.
As soon as we name/brand what we do, we provide ourselves with an entirely different future.