Farmers facing a change ‘as big as 1987’
Ashake up of the agriculture sector is coming that will be as big as the removal of farming subsides in 1987, says New Zealand Landcare Trust NelsonMarlborough regional coordinator Annette Litherland.
‘‘I believe, for the long-term good of farmers, we need to develop a real environmental story for our products that is based on fact,’’ Litherland said. ‘‘We need to find the sweet spot where farmers can be both economically and environmentally sustainable.’’
Litherland started in the Landcare Trust role in July, replacing Barbara Stuart. Last week, she introduced herself to Tasman district councillors and outlined her view on the ‘‘big picture’’.
The removal of agriculture subsidies in 1987 was a massive change for farmers, she said. ‘‘It was a huge change for them but we came out of it in a much better space and that’s where, I think, we’re about to go into again. It’s obviously the global warming aspects but it’s also the cultured meat.’’
Cultured meat, also called labgrown meat, is grown in cell cultures instead of naturally grown meat from animals.
Litherland tipped cultured meat was going to be big as people would buy it instead of traditional animal meat, aiming to reduce global warming.
‘‘I can see all you guys going: ‘Nah, I’m still going to eat my steak’,’’ Litherland told the councillors. ‘‘However, do you realise that you guys don’t actually do the shopping. The women and particularly the young women will take this technology up.’’
In response to murmurs of dissent around the council table, Litherland said: ‘‘OK, I’ll put it this other way: How many of you have raised teenage daughters and how many of them went through a stage when they didn’t want to eat meat.’’
‘‘Still are,’’ came the response from some councillors.
‘‘There you go,’’ Litherland said. ‘‘So that’s what’s going to happen; there will be a huge uptake in that cultured meat so we’re going to be dealing with a completely different selling system.’’
As a consequence, the New Zealand agriculture industry would be selling a niche product to people who went to ‘‘flash restaurants’’ or wanted traditional meat for special occasions.
‘‘So the story around our products, our niche products, will have to be phenomenal,’’ Litherland said. ‘‘We’re probably also going to be selling water and it’s going to be intricately linked with tourism.’’
As the industry went through the transition, it was sensible to plan it in a way that reduced the environmental footprint because that was going to be ‘‘incredibly important’’ for the story.
The urban community had a part to play.
‘‘I still don’t think that urban people realise that virtually all of the money that comes into the country comes from primary industries or tourism,’’ Litherland said. ‘‘We have to get urban and rural reunited again and working along this vision because farmers can’t make the changes that are needed by themselves.’’
Litherland said in her view, to get farmers to take up a new technology or practice, it needed to save them time or provide a cost benefit.
‘‘For me, it’s very simple: A farmer spends $1, he expects to get $2 to $4 back. If you produce a technology that does that, they will take it up.’’
Variable rate fertiliser gave a cost-benefit return as did reducing erosion on slopes using poles provided by councils.
‘‘Those ones do give you payback and that’s why the phosphate levels right across New Zealand in the waterways is going down,’’ Litherland said.
Support from councils for riparian planting was ‘‘fundamental’’ because the farmers could not get the cost back from riparian fencing and planting ‘‘unless somebody subsidies it’’.
‘‘Can you work out a way farmers can make money from riparian planting,’’ Litherland said. ‘‘Could the riparian strip be a crop? Could we get native food into our restaurants?’’
New Zealand Landcare Trust NelsonMarlborough regional co-ordinator Annette Litherland says we need to find the sweet spot where farmers can be both economically and environmentally sustainable.