The fu­ture of New Zealand farm­ing

Idealog - - CONTENTS -

Find lay Buchanan talks to the peo­ple at the fore front of a fourth agri­cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion

Our farm­ing sys­tems stand on the precipice of in­tense change. The task of how to feed a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion that is set to reach 10 bil­lion peo­ple by 2050 in the face of cli­mate change, re­source scarcity, and land degra­da­tion has forced in­no­va­tion to amp up. Sci­en­tists and tech­nol­o­gists have blown the whis­tle on tra­di­tional farm­ing meth­ods and sub­se­quently, new sys­tems of agri­cul­ture have emerged. Plant- based meats have sprouted, cel­lu­lar agri­cul­ture and al­ter­na­tive protein prod­ucts have spread across su­per­mar­kets and fast food joints, and farm­ers have more en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­count­abil­ity. Thank­fully, strides in tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment have opened the gates for a fourth agri­cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion, but will New Zealand–with its na­tional iden­tity that’s deeply en­trenched in tra­di­tional farm­ing meth­ods–be will­ing to move with it? Find lay Buchanan talks to some of the pioneers grow­ing the pas­tures of agri­cul­tural pos­ter­ity.

Since the 1970s and 1980s, farm­ers have skipped through fields of highly un­reg­u­lated mar­kets, match­ing a pop­u­la­tion boom with greater pro­duc­tion. The re­sult forged our most suc­cess­ful trade­able ex­ports – dairy and meat – while feed­ing the masses at a rel­a­tively low cost, and ar­guably gen­er­ated one of the most pro­duc­tive and ef­fi­cient farm­ing sec­tors in the world.

How­ever, while such re­lent­less pur­suit of growth pro­vided short-term ben­e­fits, the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age this is do­ing to New Zealand’s land­scapes is in­creas­ingly con­cern­ing. And many have is­sued warn­ings that our farm­ing sec­tor has reached its so­cial, en­vi­ron­men­tal, and eco­nomic lim­its.

As me­dia cov­er­age of these con­se­quences of tra­di­tional farm­ing meth­ods in­crease, so too does con­sumer aware­ness. The Guardian an­nounced ear­lier this year that not con­sum­ing meat or dairy is the sin­gle big­gest way to re­duce your car­bon foot­print, while other con­fronting statis­tics have been well pub­li­cised, too: agri­cul­ture ac­counts for 18 per­cent of global green­house gas house emis­sions, it’s the worst pol­luters of wa­ter­ways glob­ally, tak­ing up 70 per­cent of fresh wa­ter us­age, and strik­ingly, 40 per­cent of arable land sur­face world­wide has been cleared for live­stock pro­duc­tion.

In a New Zealand con­text, the lat­est pro­duc­tiv­ity com­mis­sion re­port shows that dairy is a par­tic­u­lar pain point. The be­lea­guered sec­tor ac­counts for the ma­jor­ity of green­house gas emis­sions from land use and, as Rod Oram wrote to News­room, by far the big­gest con­trib­u­tor to ris­ing agri­cul­tural emis­sions over the past 25 years. None of this even grazes the slew of health risks to both hu­mans and an­i­mals, nor the is­sues of an­i­mal wel­fare that plague the in­dus­try.

Ac­cord­ing to The At­lantic, de­spite the in­creas­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion of fac­tory farm­ing, var­i­ous veg­e­tar­ian move­ments and spec­i­fied re­search into the harms of eat­ing meat, hu­mans are still eat­ing more of it than ever. What­ever the reality is, de­spite the numer­ous con­se­quences at­tached to eat­ing meat, most of us turn a blind eye as we’re too be­sot­ted by a ten­der sir­loin.

So, the is­sue of how to sus­tain this en­ter­prise for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions is a sen­si­tive dis­cus­sion filled with po­lar­ity. Where to from here? Per­haps it’s not a case of point­ing fin­gers and call­ing out tra­di­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, but in­stead start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about a shared fu­ture be­tween sci­en­tists, farm­ers, start-ups and tech­nol­o­gists alike. There­fore, we cast an op­ti­mistic eye on the op­por­tu­ni­ties that lie ahead in the po­ten­tial adap­ta­tions to the in­dus­try, and the pioneers be­hind them.

The seed yet to sprout

One area that hasn’t yet taken off but is set to grow in terms of agri­cul­tural op­por­tu­nity in New Zealand is the budding cannabis in­dus­try. Fol­low­ing ex­ten­sive re­search into its health ben­e­fits, suc­cess in over­seas mar­kets, strong sup­port from the pub­lic as well as huge in­vest­ment by in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies, a green rush of cannabis com­pa­nies has emerged. Although the in­dus­try still re­lies on a pend­ing medic­i­nal cannabis bill that’s due to be an­nounced next year, the signs look promis­ing, lead­ing lo­cal com­pa­nies to ready them­selves to break en­tirely new ground.

While many have been quick off the mark to en­ter into the pros­per­ous mar­ket, Hiku­rangi En­ter­prises is pos­si­bly the most mean­ing­ful. The so­cial en­ter­prise is based in Ru­atōria on the East Coast of Gis­borne and plans to in­cor­po­rate job cre­ation and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment into its rohe. While its lo­cal com­mu­nity is at the heart of Hiku­rangi, its fu­ture looks bright both na­tion­ally, and in­ter­na­tion­ally. In Au­gust, it man­aged to se­cure New Zealand’s first li­cense to grow medic­i­nal cannabis and has since started the con­struc­tion of high-tech green­houses and pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties to breed cannabis strains and start con­duct­ing tri­als into New Zealand made med­i­cal cannabis prod­ucts. It has also re­ceived a gen­er­ous sum of in­vest­ment. Tellingly, its big­gest con­tri­bu­tion was from lo­cal com­mu­nity on the East Coast – one of the poor­est in New Zealand – who col­lec­tively in­vested over $1 mil­lion. Ad­di­tion­ally, it reached the PledgeMe $2 mil­lion cap in just 16 min­utes. But it hasn’t been all highs for Hiku­rangi. Re­ports sug­gest its crit­i­cal $180 mil­lion deal with Seat­tle based Rhizo Sciences col­lapsed, and it may have left its in­vestors in the dark on this. Nev­er­the­less, it says it has since signed a new let­ter of in­tent of a larger vol­ume with an un­named San Diego com­pany. So, as Hiku­rangi con­tin­ues to travel through the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of the bur­geon­ing cannabis in­dus­try, just like any crop, the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of grow­ing cannabis de­pend on the de­ci­sions made in the cul­ti­va­tion, har­vest­ing, post-har­vest­ing and pro­duc­tion phases.

Founder Manu Cad­die is quick to point out a few: the im­por­tance of where it is grown, what chem­i­cal in­puts are used for pes­ti­cide con­trol, plant dis­ease con­trol, and plant grow stim­u­lants, the amount of wa­ter

and power used by other in­puts as well as the dis­charges they cre­ate, how waste ma­te­rial is man­aged, among many other tech­ni­cal­i­ties.

Cad­die says, “Cannabis gen­er­ally likes a sim­i­lar cli­mate to hu­mans – that can be cre­ated in­doors or out­doors over the warmer half of the year. It grows out­doors from the deep south to the far north – pre­fer­ring good wa­ter to the roots but dry con­di­tions to hu­mid cli­mates that cre­ate mould and dis­ease.”

Hiku­rangi plans to yield five to six cy­cles in­doors and two cy­cles out­doors ev­ery year with the as­pi­ra­tion to have hun­dreds, and pos­si­bly thou­sands, of hectares un­der cul­ti­va­tion within two years.

De­spite much of the at­ten­tion on its cannabis arm, Hiku­rangi has a much wider vi­sion. It looks to cul­ti­vate a va­ri­ety of land use op­tions to en­sure healthy whā­nau and healthy whenua.

Cad­die says, “Our big vi­sion is for most of the East Coast to re­vert to per­ma­nent na­tive land cover, with in­dige­nous species re­pop­u­lat­ing the land­scape as it was prior to hu­mans de­stroy­ing it.

“Such a vi­sion is based on the in­trin­sic value of our unique bio­di­ver­sity in Aotearoa and the eco­log­i­cal her­itage of Te Tairāwhiti in par­tic­u­lar. To achieve such a vi­sion, we have to cre­ate sus­tain­able fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for land own­ers to choose in­dige­nous re­ver­sion ei­ther be­cause they have suf­fi­cient in­come from other sources or be­cause na­tive plants have a mon­e­tary value. Value from na­tives can be de­vel­oped in a num­ber of ar­eas.

“The way the mar­ket and reg­u­la­tions have de­vel­oped is a night­mare, but hope­fully lessons can be learnt and mis­takes not re­peated for other prod­ucts. We’re fo­cus­ing on kanuka honey and oil op­por­tu­ni­ties now.”

Fur­ther­more, he em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of at­tach­ing value to its prod­ucts – a peren­nial strug­gle for New Zealand pro­duc­ers – and points to Mānuka honey as ‘the poster child’ for the po­ten­tial of na­tive species as high value prod­ucts.

“We’ll never com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally if it is just a com­mod­ity. Lessons from the ki­wifruit in­dus­try and agri­cul­ture show how we can be global lead­ers if the em­pha­sis is on de­vel­op­ing and own­ing the best ge­net­ics and util­is­ing our great sci­ence com­mu­nity and glob­ally trusted brand as a safe and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able coun­try – and mak­ing sure we ac­tu­ally move from per­cep­tion to reality.”

Cad­die says they are work­ing hard with land own­ers, sci­en­tists and mar­keters to iden­tify new op­por­tu­ni­ties for nat­u­ral health prod­ucts to be de­vel­oped from in­dige­nous species of plants, and be­lieves there are hun­dreds of in­dige­nous or­gan­isms that were tra­di­tion­ally used for a range of ben­e­fi­cial pur­poses with many more op­por­tu­ni­ties still to be dis­cov­ered.

“We’re also work­ing hard on car­bon farm­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties – con­nect­ing with emit­ters who want to sup­port more than just more pine plan­ta­tion forests. We’re con­nect­ing with other in­dige­nous car­bon farm­ers over­seas and global com­pa­nies look­ing for pre­mium car­bon cred­its that can sup­port in­dige­nous tree plant­ing by in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties here.”

“There are other op­por­tu­ni­ties in na­tive re­gen­er­a­tion – things like long-term na­tive plan­ta­tions with se­lec­tive har­vest­ing, eco-tourism and the like but bioac­tive ex­tracts, in­clud­ing honey and oil, and car­bon farm­ing seem the most ob­vi­ous ways to gen­er­ate value for land own­ers as we try to re­de­velop the in­dige­nous land cover.”

While Hiku­rangi is very much its own en­tity, Cad­die be­lieves fel­low farm­ers, par­tic­u­larly on the East Coast, are open to the idea of cannabis.

“There is a huge amount of in­ter­est on the Coast as we don’t have any dairy – it’s all dry­s­tock farm­ing. Much of the land is un­suit­able for a crop like cannabis, but nearly ev­ery­one has a cou­ple of hectares of flat land that could have green­houses on it, and that could sub­sidise the other parts of the farm to go into na­tives.”

There is also the mat­ter of syn­ergy be­tween Hiku­rangi and fel­low land own­ers up and down the coast. As NZ Geo­graphic rightly points out, it is crit­i­cal to un­der­stand the cause and ef­fect of land us­age, to know that plant­ing crops in one area, could

I don’t think we need to de­tach our­selves from the meat in­dus­try. Our meat and milk in­dus­try has been amaz­ing for New Zealand, we have been built on it. What you are talk­ing about is change, hu­mans have an aver­sion to change, even though change is the only con­stant. Ev­ery­thing evolves, ev­ery­thing changes. This is an evo­lu­tion of protein. I stand on the shoul­ders of all of those peo­ple who built an­i­mal agri­cul­ture, we would never deny that. But i t’s about lift­ing the next gen­er­a­tion, do­ing some­thing new that is bet­ter for all.

sub­se­quently aid – or in­jure – ecosys­tems in neigh­bour­ing val­leys, es­tu­ar­ies, or rivers.

Cad­die says, “Ac­cess to ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion is a huge chal­lenge. We got a con­sul­tant to look at op­tions for the 130 hectare block I live on, but he re­ally had to scratch around to find good in­for­ma­tion on the wide va­ri­ety of alternatives that we could con­sider for the block.

“He has com­piled that into a re­port that we share with other lo­cal land own­ers as the other big chal­lenge is economies of scale – it’s no good us just get­ting into grow­ing nut trees or harakeke un­less we have neigh­bours in the same val­ley or at the same dis­trict also pro­duc­ing the same crops so we can sup­ply the mar­ket at scale and share the costs of com­mon in­fras­truc­ture like ma­chin­ery, stor­age or pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties.”

Asked if he ex­pects to see cannabis or hemp farm­ing re­place our dairy and meat sec­tors, Cad­die says, “Dairy and meat will con­tinue on for some time, but con­sumer pref­er­ences are chang­ing quickly and my kids’ gen­er­a­tion will have no qualms about buy­ing lab grown food which will be heaps cheaper, much more nu­tri­tious and much bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment.

So, our tra­di­tional agri­cul­tural ex­port in­dus­try is a sun­set in­dus­try that New Zealand has re­lied on for 100 years and is the early stages of ex­tinc­tion. I’m not sure just cannabis or hemp will re­place meat and dairy, but plant-based prod­ucts based on in­no­va­tion and new tech­nol­ogy has to be the fo­cus right now for mas­sive R&D in­vest­ment, both pub­lic and pri­vate.”

The emer­gence of plant-based pro­teins, or meat-free meat, has been touted as a panacea in the quest for cleaner food sys­tems. Here in New Zealand, Sun­fed Meats have spear­headed the move­ment, hav­ing de­vel­oped IP and in­fras­truc­ture to lo­cally man­u­fac­ture meat-like prod­ucts out of its pre­mium yel­low pea protein. It has proved pop­u­lar, hav­ing con­sis­tently sold out its chicken-free-chicken prod­ucts, and has big plans to un­leash new of­fer­ings and in­crease lo­cal pro­duc­tion.

Sun­fed Meats came to be af­ter what founder Shama Lee de­scribes as ‘a bit of an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis’.

“I had ev­ery­thing you are told to achieve in life, I did my de­gree, got a good soft­ware pro­gram­ming job, and climbed the lad­der. I have a good mar­riage and met the love of my life. But I was feel­ing hol­low and un­ful­filled to the point where I quit my job. Dur­ing that process I went into a self­im­posed ex­ile. I took a whole year out, no noise, no so­cial me­dia, noth­ing. So, through that process I had to fig­ure out what I wanted to do with the lim­ited time I have on this planet. And that is how Sun­fed was born.”

Lee speaks in a mat­ter of sys­tems – pos­si­bly a re­sult of her back­ground in soft­ware en­gi­neer­ing – where she dis­patches our food sys­tem as an ‘en­ergy prob­lem’.

“Food is just an­other source of en­ergy we con­sume on this planet. Just like there are other sus­tain­able and non-sus­tain­able en­ergy such as coal, oil and so­lar, so too is food.” Lee tells me, be­fore stat­ing that meat has be­come one of the most un­sus­tain­able forms of food en­ergy on this planet.

“It is un­sus­tain­able be­cause the more it grows, the worse it gets. That is the def­i­ni­tion of un­sus­tain­abil­ity.”

Lee specif­i­cally points out the se­ries of risks at­tached to an­i­mal agri­cul­ture: an­i­mal dis­ease out­breaks, pol­lu­tion and de­for­esta­tion, hu­man health, as well as an­i­mal suf­fer­ing – prob­lems she be­lieves al­ter­na­tive plant protein pro­duc­tion could help solve.

“Peo­ple al­ways talk about in­ef­fi­ciency, but I al­ways say look at the risk,” she says. “I feel that for too long cap­i­tal­ist sys­tems are built on ex­ploita­tion, where the more it grows the more it ex­ploits. But I don’t be­lieve that. At Sun­fed, we wanted to build some­thing that is highly scal­able, where the more it grows, the more it in­vig­o­rates. It doesn’t take and de­plete – it adds value.”

To do so, Sun­fed has built from the bot­tom up. It has forged its own hard­ware and pro­pri­etary tech­niques, in which the pro­duc­tion method con­sumes at least five times less land and wa­ter than an­i­mal farm­ing. Fur­ther­more, its Sun­fed Chicken Free Chicken boasts higher lev­els of protein, zinc and iron than an­i­mal farmed chicken.

Lee says, “We are the only ones who went out with a naked min­i­mal­ist prod­uct that doesn’t hide be­hind flavours. The rea­son we were able to stand be­hind that is be­cause we are prod­uct-led and hence en­gi­neer­ing-led and have in­vested con­sid­er­able R&D, time and cap­i­tal into get­ting the prod­uct right. The Sun­fed pro­duc­tion method is very clean, we had to build our own, we didn’t want to use stan­dard things off the shelf that would com­pro­mise the in­tegrity of the prod­uct. Noth­ing ex­isted that could do what we wanted so we built our own.”

Sun­fed is cur­rently in the process of build­ing a much larger pro­duc­tion plant in Auck­land, which Lee says, will come on­line next year and have sig­nif­i­cant vol­ume, giv­ing Sun­fed economies of scale.

“In the three plus years of en­gi­neer­ing, we haven’t worked on chicken, we have worked on how to take plant pro­teins and make meat out of them. To then make chicken or beef or pork, it’s not much of a stretch, once you have the prod­uct tex­ture right, then you have a good foun­da­tion to work from.”

Its strat­egy is prod­uct and en­gi­neer­ing fo­cused and aims to have the clean­est, most min­i­mal­ist in­gre­di­ent deck in the mar­ket. It also tastes con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent from its ex­ist­ing com­peti­tors. For ex­am­ple, the tex­ture of tofu, the mushy bean curd, is sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from meat, while Sun­fed re­tains the tough and ver­sa­tile qual­i­ties of chicken. Be­cause of this, as well as the mul­ti­tude of nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits, Sun­fed has gained strong sup­port. It is sold as a pre­mium prod­uct, and it seems to be work­ing.

Food has tra­di­tion­ally brought cul­tures and peo­ple to­gether, and food pro­duc­ers and con­sumers have tra­di­tion­ally been very closely aligned. Cur­rently, food pro­duc­ers are of­ten ma­ligned by con­sumers – food i s driv­ing us apart. We need to sit around the ta­ble and share our ex­pe­ri­ences and val­ues openly, within a cli­mate where we all agree to change. That will en­sure New Zealand will drive the next rev­o­lu­tion i n food pro­duc­tion.

“We don’t have a mar­ket­ing bud­get, we were just a start up when we launched the prod­uct, and it kept sell­ing out every­where. Our launch video went vi­ral and re­ceived 12 mil­lion views, it was in­sane. You can’t make this stuff up. The prod­uct is re­ally im­por­tant – too of­ten peo­ple put out a sub­par prod­uct and big com­pa­nies put all this money be­hind it and mar­ket it – but with­out first get­ting the prod­uct right, it’s not sus­tain­able.”

While Sun­fed claims to be a global leader in its abil­ity to repli­cate whole pieces of fleshy meat, in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies are also ris­ing to the chal­lenge. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Sil­i­con Val­ley has pro­duced a ros­ter of alternatives, in­clud­ing Im­pos­si­ble Foods, which banked a healthy US$389 mil­lion of in­vest­ment and is served across 1000 restau­rants in the states, while wel­com­ing the en­dorse­ment of top chefs and con­sumers along the way.

How­ever, it’s ev­i­dent that meat plays a larger role than its tex­tu­ral, nu­tri­tional, or eco­nomic ben­e­fits. It has be­come, os­ten­si­bly, a part of our iden­tity. Think of the widely shared Sun­day roast, the cher­ished sum­mer bar­beque, or the tra­di­tional hāngi – meat has long been at the heart of our cul­tural cus­toms. There­fore, it was no sur­prise when brainy sci­en­tists de­vel­oped meat-free-meat, many felt a sense of um­brage.

Tellingly, when Air New Zealand de­ployed the plant-based Im­pos­si­ble Burger to be served on two of its in­ter­na­tional flights, a se­ries of dis­grun­tled re­sponses fol­lowed. These cries ex­tended into gov­ern­ment, where Na­tional MP Nathan Guy took to Twit­ter stat­ing, “It was dis­ap­point­ing to see Air NZ pro­mot­ing a GE sub­sti­tute meat burger” and later de­clared “the na­tional car­rier should be push­ing our pre­mium prod­ucts and help­ing sell New Zealand to our world”. These thoughts were bol­stered by deputy prime min­is­ter Win­ston Peters, who stated he is “ut­terly op­posed to fake beef”.

The push­back sig­ni­fied an ob­sta­cle for the newly minted in­dus­try of whether alternatives to meat could be wel­comed through the farm gates of New Zealand cul­ture. Asked if we as a na­tion need to fully de­tach our­selves from meat, Lee ar­gues we don’t need to, nor does she feel that she is against the meat in­dus­try.

Lee says, “I don’t think we need to de­tach our­selves from the meat in­dus­try. Our meat and milk in­dus­try has been amaz­ing for New Zealand, we have been built on it. What you are talk­ing about is change, hu­mans have an aver­sion to change, even though change is the only con­stant. Ev­ery­thing evolves, ev­ery­thing changes. This is an evo­lu­tion of protein. I stand on the shoul­ders of all of those peo­ple who built an­i­mal agri­cul­ture, we would never deny that. But it’s about lift­ing the next gen­er­a­tion, do­ing some­thing new that is bet­ter for all.”

Cer­tainly, the dawn of al­ter­na­tive meats pro­vides a new com­peti­tor for our meat in­dus­try, but more im­por­tantly, it pro­vides a choice for con­sumers about what agri­cul­tural sys­tem they buy into. To help pro­vide in­clu­siv­ity, Lee is care­ful not to la­bel her prod­uct as ve­gan or veg­e­tar­ian but aims to be a bind­ing force be­tween meat and non-meat eaters.

Lee says, “We are not about preach­ing, we are not a ve­gan com­pany, we are only try­ing em­power the con­sumer with a real choice and em­power the farmer with a real choice.”

From a farm­ing stand­point, Lee says be­cause of such a heavy his­tory of farm­ing an­i­mals, there has been lit­tle in­fras­truc­ture to sup­port other forms of farm­ing in New Zealand. Cer­tainly, in the long run, har­vest­ing pea pro­teins pro­vides a huge op­por­tu­nity for both our farm­ers and our econ­omy, but cur­rently the fo­cus for Sun­fed is to set up re­source and in­fras­truc­ture to boost sup­ply and de­mand.

“For New Zealand, you can’t yet go straight to the farm­ers right now, you have to build the whole in­fras­truc­ture first. So, you first have to build the con­sump­tion end be­fore you build the sup­ply end, which is the farm­ing side. We have to scale the con­sump­tion end and get the vol­umes we need. Once we have the nec­es­sary vol­umes, I plan to go back into the sup­ply chain and in­vest in key in­fras­truc­ture points to al­low us to go all the way back to the farmer. That is the Sun­fed vi­sion.”

Not ready to be put out to pas­ture

Pāmu stands as one of the old hands in the in­dus­try along­side the bevy of young farm­ing start-ups look­ing to ce­ment them­selves into the fu­ture of farm­ing. Formerly known as Land­corp, the busi­ness started 130 years ago and has since helped New Zealand be­come a $2-bil­lion-dol­lar agri­cul­ture sec­tor, while boast­ing a po­si­tion as New Zealand’s largest farm­ing en­ter­prise. It has pro­duced the ma­jor­ity of New Zealand farms – more than 25,000 – and has trans­formed our land from forestry into pas­toral farm­ing. But while it may seem like an in­cum­bent or­gan­i­sa­tion, it also is ea­ger to adapt for the fu­ture. Over the last five years, it has helped cre­ate a new ex­pec­ta­tion for farm­ers to prac­tice en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship and to at­tach ap­pro­pri­ate value to its prod­ucts.

CEO Steve Car­den pro­vides an hon­est re­flec­tion of his en­ter­prise, stat­ing Pāmu was built for years on pro­duc­ing as much meat, wool, and milk as pos­si­ble, to ex­ploit land for max­i­mum profit. But while it pro­vided pro­duc­tive farms, af­ter years of dairy in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion, it came to re­alise its model was bro­ken.

“We built a model on in­ten­sive farm­ing, which was re­ly­ing on re­ally heav­ily driv­ing peo­ple who worked in those busi­nesses, the an­i­mals that we farm, and the over­all en­vi­ron­ment which we were farm­ing,” he says.

Car­den says Pāmu is cur­rently in the midst of a shift from a large-scale, in­ten­sive cor­po­rate an­i­mal farm­ing model, to a di­ver­si­fied land use model where it pro­duces a range of spe­cialty an­i­mal prod­ucts and spe­cialty plant-based prod­ucts.

Pāmu has al­ready sought to ful­fill the wants of a mod­ern con­sumer, par­tic­u­larly al­ter­na­tive dairy forms, hav­ing set up a se­ries of pro­grammes to pro­vide a port­fo­lio of plant based and non-cow dairy prod­ucts such as sheep milk, deer milk, and plant milks along­side oth­ers. This ties into its bid to at­tach more value to its prod­ucts, with the view that its an­i­mal prod­ucts need to be niche and pre­mium, as op­posed to be­ing plainly com­modi­tised.

“We’ve worked re­ally hard to make our prod­ucts dif­fer­ent, in terms of how they are pro­duced, so we are re­ally in­ter­ested in or­gan­ics which has a sys­tem of farm­ing with a lower foot­print as well as a brand that is at­tached to it glob­ally that peo­ple pay a pre­mium for.

“We are in­ter­ested in al­ter­na­tive and new an­i­mal prod­ucts like sheep milk and deer milk. We have built a com­pany called Spring Sheep, New Zealand’s lead­ing sheep milk busi­ness ex­port­ing prod­ucts into Asia, hav­ing de­vel­oped deer milk com­pa­nies which is a high end an­i­mal protein story around a su­per­food which is re­ally high in protein, high in fat, that we are get­ting into food ser­vice in Aus­trala­sia as a food desert. And po­ten­tially has some cos­metic ap­pli­ca­tions else­where.”

Car­den says de­spite as­sump­tions that farm­ers are stuck in their ways, there is a lot of good work hap­pen­ing across the sec­tor to open up more trans­parency.

“In the old days there was a ‘my house, my cas­tle’ ap­proach to farms, but all that is chang­ing, ob­vi­ously ev­ery food com­pany around the world is ex­pected by the con­sumers to much more open about the con­di­tions with which it is pro­duc­ing the food they are con­sum­ing. And that pres­sure is ap­plied to farm­ers as well.”

He says that ex­pec­ta­tions from su­per­mar­kets – and large meat and dairy com­pa­nies

– to ac­cu­rately record farm op­er­a­tions has ramped up. Ad­di­tional pres­sure is com­pounded by re­newed changes and ex­pec­ta­tions at gov­ern­ment level about how an­i­mals are treated, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, along with is­sues of health and safety.

Luck­ily, the in­creased pres­sure is met with the de­vel­op­ment of new tools to aid farm­ers and with that, new modes of trans­parency. Car­den points to an ex­am­ple, Far­mIQ, a land and an­i­mal man­age­ment sys­tem as one of the best ex­am­ples in the mar­ket.

“It’s a re­ally com­pli­cated in­te­grated piece of soft­ware which we use to ba­si­cally mea­sure what hap­pens to ev­ery an­i­mal on our farm, whether it is where they get moved, what they eat, how big and fast they are grow­ing, what medicines have been ap­plied to them, and where they end up go­ing. And also a sim­i­lar level of trans­parency around what we are ac­tu­ally do­ing on our land. So ev­ery pad­dock is man­aged, it has fer­tiliser ap­pli­ca­tions, pes­ti­cide use along­side what we are do­ing with wa­ter and ir­ri­ga­tion. So that’s a re­ally good tool for mak­ing sure, in a sin­gle soft­ware data­base, a re­ally ac­cu­rate eye on vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing that is hap­pen­ing across our farms.”

“The data re­quire­ments and what we need to re­port on at ev­ery level is so sub­stan­tial that if you try to do it man­u­ally with­out the help of tech­nol­ogy you are in real trou­ble”.

But how have farm­ers re­sponded to such a shift in con­sumers’ ex­pec­ta­tions? Car­den says ini­tially, they were very skep­ti­cal.

“They were con­cerned that what we were do­ing was both un­re­al­is­tic and un­nec­es­sary. And we’ve got to push the in­dus­try to a place which was un­pleas­ant for them, as it has been at times, un­pleas­ant for us,” he says.

“What I think they feel now is an ac­cep­tance, that we fore­saw what was in­evitable for the in­dus­try, and that has be­come a reality. As the coun­try’s largest farm­ing com­pany with 125 farms around the coun­try across 1000 peo­ple, we have the scale to in­tro­duce the sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy needed to make that tran­si­tion. So, I think there is a be­grudg­ing ac­cep­tance we got it right with our strat­egy.

And ev­ery­one now is work­ing

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