Former Minister for Primary Industries, and retiring MP, Nathan Guy says his plans to invest more than $2 million in a new innovative dairy shed is a vote of confidence in the future of the dairy industry.
The 15-person council, chaired by the former Zespri chief executive, Lain Jager, will give independent strategy advice to the cabinet on issues confronting the primary sector. And it will develop a sector-wide vision.
But the council is criticised by National’s agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy, who says it’s just paying lip service to the most important sector and lacks power to influence change at the level of the coalition Government.
“The council doesn’t even have a heavy-hitter from the dairy industry, which is of concern; and dairy farmers and industry leaders will see this as just another sign that they are going to be dealt to by the Government,” Guy says.
O’Connor rejects this criticism, saying the council is made up of visionary leaders.
“They are going to set a vision for NZ agribusiness that can be shared and understood by all, and then sit down with all the sectors and work out a strategic plan that aligns with that vision.
“This is an opportunity for fresh thinking and to establish a vision and work on strategies that don’t get bogged down by the realities of day-to-day enterprise.
“We have to look further ahead but lots in the sector aren’t facing the reality of the milk price payout and actually knowing where the dairy industry will be heading in the next 20 - 30 years. This is something that must be considered.
“We also want to highlight career paths in the sector for young people.”
O’Connor says several sectors, notably meat and wool, should have done more strategic research in the past and the new council will do some of this work.
The council is not intended to be a representative grouping of the whole primary sector.
The Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Scientists have complained that no scientist is on the council.
But O’Connor counters this by saying council members understand future directions, and have shown by their performance that they look further ahead than some industry have done in the past.
Well-known people on the Primary Sector Council include Mark Paine, DairyNZ; John Brackenridge; NZ Merino Company; Julia Jones; KPMG; Tony Egan, Greeenlea Meats; and Julian Raine, HortNZ.
O’Connor says council head Lain Jager brings solid experience in leadership, value-adding innovation and stakeholder engagement -- all critical elements of the work he expects of the council.
“It will meet first in late May,” he says. “Once it has developed a sector-wide vision it will work with each sector to develop individual strategic plans; for example, sustainable development, future value creation, technological opportunities and how a focused and thriving primary sector can reinvigorate rural communities.”