Thursday, 16 November 2017 08:55

NZ can do better in this era

Written by  Jon Hickford, professor in the Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Lincoln University
Jon Hickford. Jon Hickford.

Examining the primary sector policies of Labour, and thus our new Government, there are a few things on my wish list, some cautionary notes and some plaudits to hand out.

I am keen to see a clearer overarching strategy as the last few years of neo-liberal free-market approaches have left us a bit directionless in agriculture and horticulture, especially where a high degree of post-farmgate processing is required (e.g. meat, wool and dairy). 

The establishment of a primary industry council and chief agricultural advisor may help improve priority and direction setting, but I am wary of the creation of another layer of bureaucracy and/or increasing barriers for those industries that can, and do, set about helping themselves.

I hope the primary industry council and chief agricultural advisor will work industry by industry to find and consolidate leadership that is already within that industry, so working from the ‘ground up’ to improve the value of those industries.

It is excellent that a ‘pathway to success’ initiative is being proposed. Progress has already been made in this with GrowingNZ, the Primary Industry Capability Alliance (PICA) and the Soil Makes Sense programme from Lincoln University.

However, the challenge is to further the reach of these programmes into the urban community. There are three reasons for this: so that we do not further enhance the urban/rural divide; so that urban consumers better understand how and why food production and agricultural practices are used [i.e. removing the mystique and misunderstanding] and because too few young people are coming from the rural sector to sustain, let alone grow, the sector. 

The emphasis cannot be agribusiness alone, because practical skills and agricultural and horticultural science are critically important too.

I am also pleased to see the Primary Growth Partnership going under the spotlight. At its cynical worst it was simply a ‘corporate welfare’ scheme and I don’t think that it added a lot of value onfarm.

Re-emphasis on, and growth of, the Sustainable Farming Fund is desirable as it better achieves sustainable social, environmental and economic benefits for the farming community. It is a success story already.

If we are going to create an independent food safety authority, as is proposed, I would want its brief to either broaden from a simple focus on contaminant, chemical and microbiological safety issues, to either directly include an emphasis on nutritional value (e.g. high sugar foods) or, indirectly, that the authority is strongly mandated to align with the medical fraternity and dieticians to ensure that food is the best we can make it in nutritional value.

I see that given the emphasis globally on the intensification of agriculture and typically in highly subsidised/close to market systems, New Zealand needs to better differentiate its philosophy and direction in agriculture and food production. We need low-intensity, high value production systems that maintain the highest health, welfare, carbon footprint and consumer acceptance standards. We can be different from everyone else.

• Jon Hickford is a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Lincoln University

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