Friday, 24 November 2017 08:55

Let’s do things differently

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

Professor Jon Hickford, from Lincoln University’s faculty of agriculture and life sciences, gives his view on where the new government should focus in its primary sector policy.

Examining the primary sector policies of Labour, 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. 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 facilitate improvement in 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 would hope that the primary industry council and chief agricultural advisor work industry by industry to find and consolidate leadership that is already within that industry, thereby working from the ground up to improve the value of those industries.

It is fantastic that a ‘pathway to success’ initiative is being proposed. Progress has already been made in this space 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 we do not further enhance the urban/rural divide

• so urban consumers better understand how and why food production and agricultural practices are used (i.e. removing the mystique and misunderstanding)

• and because there are insufficient young people coming from the rural sector to sustain, let alone grow, the rural sector. 

The emphasis cannot just be agribusiness. 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 it added a lot of value onfarm.

Re-emphasis on, and growth of, the Sustainable Farming Fund is very desirable. This better delivers sustainable social, environmental and economic benefits to the farming community. It is a success story already.

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

New Zealand needs to better differentiate its philosophy and direction in agriculture and food production. I believe we need to focus on low-intensity/high value production systems that maintain the highest health, welfare, carbon footprint and consumer acceptance standards.

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