The Future of Farming – HB Today Talking Point

The recent article ‘Forestry workers fear for future as prices plunge‘ (HB Today 9/4/14) sums up the challenges that confront Hawkes’ Bay. Forestry is an industry that has focused on a commodity product – Pinus radiata – at the expense of more valuable timber types. It’s the consequence of the volume vs value argument laid bare for all to see. If it costs the same amount of money to harvest a more valuable timber tree, and there are many varieties available, then why aren’t we planting more of these more valuable varieties of trees? I suppose an accountant would argue that net present value calculations prove that Pinus radiata is the way to go but really, when there are such huge fluctuations in returns and the cost of harvesting is so related to the cost of diesel is this a sensible decision?

Unfortunately a great proportion of Hawkes’Bay’s economy is reliant on the same sort of thinking. In our agriculture sector the push for ever increasing production often comes at the cost of making farms less resilient to climatic, price, and cost fluctuations. The over indebtedness of many our farmers leaves them with few options but to maintain the status-quo, and when the status-quo comes up against a limit such as Plan Change 6 then Houston we have a problem.

However not all is lost. At the recent Federated Farmers annual conference Russel Noman stated:

“There are two roads we can take when it comes to the future of farming in New Zealand. We can try and feed the world with anonymous shipping containers of anonymous products that enter the giant commodity pool, cheap products that get moved around the world with no focus on where they are from or their other qualities. They are industrial food commodities. Industrial food commodities are defined by their price, their cheapness. The producers of these ingredients get low prices and capture very little of the value chain – most of the value is added in the processing and retailing, and in this model that value is captured by others.

Dr Russel Norman

Dr Russel Norman

Or we can pursue high quality foods, products with good reputations that customers will pay more for. These are products that proudly state they’re made in New Zealand, products that state how they were grown and processed. Products that you can trust are safe and healthy for your children. Real food grown by real people in a real country that stands behind its food exports. The producers of real food know their customers and capture much of the value from field to factory to shop.

We in New Zealand need to decide whether we want to produce industrial ingredients or real food with proud provenance”.

So if we want to produce real food with proud provenance, and who doesn’t, then there needs to be a change in thinking amongst our agriculture sector. But I don’t think we need to tell any farmer how to farm, that would be bizarre. The Green Party’s vision is one where greenies and farmers are on the same page. We need to encourage a change in thinking that places value as being more important than volume, something I believe Hawkes’ Bay farmers can do very very well. We want a sector that’s supercharged the no.8 wire approach – a sector where smart innovation adds value to our exports, and farmer’s back pockets. Our horticulturists are already pretty good at doing this, so why not our pastoral and dairy farmers?

provenanceThe Green Party has a vision that farmers can take advantage of technology and the added value to ensure that their children’s children can make a living on the land and enjoy the same clean rivers and healthy environment they remember from when they were young.

Submitted 9/7/14 Published 15/7/14

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