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.

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