Rural round-up

August 20, 2013

Important not to let China dominate red meat sector – Allan Barber:

It’s a scary thought how quickly things have changed, but China has become one of New Zealand’s biggest markets for red meat, almost without any warning.

After years of thinking of UK/Europe as our biggest market for sheepmeat and the USA for beef with all other countries way down the chart, China has surged to reach the status of our biggest destination by volume for sheepmeat with 60,000 tonnes in the last 12 months compared with 55,000 to the UK.

The rise in beef is less dramatic, although year on year volume increased by more than 600% to 27,500 tonnes. However this volume is larger than exports to any single market other than the USA. The increases are less pronounced if measured in dollars, but the message is the same. . . .

Innovation from grassroots:

Retaining primary sector research and development to maintain competitiveness while at the same time diversifying into other key areas is important, says industry body DairyNZ.

Commenting on the launch of a new book, Get Off the Grass: Kickstarting New Zealand’s Innovation Economy, by Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan, DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says dairying in New Zealand has not been ‘backed’ at the expense of other sectors.

“Its export value has grown by 83% in the last 10 years because our industry is innovative, resilient and highly competitive,” he says. “And I agree that diversifying our economic base is important,” says Mackle.

“Some of the research I’ve seen points to the importance of cities and regions being powerful drivers of knowledge economies. They are associated with significant productivity gains and innovation and high densities of businesses in related industries. The new Lincoln Agri Hub that DairyNZ is a part of is an agricultural response to that for Christchurch and Canterbury. There is a food one in Palmerston North and we are looking to develop a hub in the Waikato too,” he says. . .

Primary industry mobile tech forum draws the digerati – sticK:

Numbers tell a story on their own.

And the fact that over 220 attendees ponyed up at the Mobile Tech Summit 2013 in Wellington on August 7 & 8 underscores the message that our natural resources aren’t as old-hat as some would like to believe.

This new event is designed to showcase current and upcoming mobile innovations in New Zealand’s principle food and fibre sections.

In other words; the application of smartphones and mobile devices across our biological industries – which for all the movies made in New Zealand and talk of standalone digital businesses, still underpin our economy. . .

Farm compliance and water breakthroughs:

Figures obtained by the Dominion Post show a significant fall in the number of dairy farmers receiving infringement and abatement notices.  This follows hard on the heels of the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) reporting in 90 percent of monitored sites, water quality over 2000-2010, was either stable or showed improvement

“The numbers from the Dominion Post tell the full story and that is one of marked improvement,” says Bruce Wills, Federated Farmers President.

“While the Dominion Post has singled out dairy farming over the past five seasons, we are buoyed to see the number of abatement notices almost halve while infringement notices have more than halved.  . .

Changes to farming regulations on the horizon:

Federated Farmers supports Government proposals to change the Resource Management Act (RMA) but there are some changes still to be made.

“The principles behind the changes are to give certainty to the planning process and to consenting,” said Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers’ Environment spokesperson.

“I’m sure everyone will welcome greater consistency and faster decision making. The changes should make local authorities better to deal with and more accountable.

“We are disappointed that the Government is still not addressing inconsistencies with the framework of the National Policy Statement for Fresh Water; devised to protect indigenous aquatic flora, fauna and habitat. The proposed RMA changes continue to protect introduced predator species, such as trout. You cannot have it both ways. . .

Best plants for bees – Raymond Huber:

Honey bees are the glue that holds our agricultural system together…Hannah Nordhaus

It’s Bee Week and Time magazine features The Plight of the Honeybee (hey Mr. Time Editor, it’s ‘honey bee’, two words, not one). One cause of bee decline is monocultural farming: bees are starving because of a lack of flower diversity. You can help by planting bee-friendly fruit trees, bushes, herbs and wild flowers:
  • Plant nectar-rich flowers: clovers and mimosa; rosemary, thyme and sage; koromiko and veronicas; brassicas; dandelion, sunflower, dahlias, cosmos, and zinnia
  • Bees like bluish-purple flowers such as Californian lilac, erica, and lavender . . .

Grass plus

August 7, 2013

The whey contamination scare has once again put the focus on New Zealand’s reliance on agriculture.

Shaun Hendy co-authored a soon to be released book with the late Sir Paul Callaghan entitled Get Off the Grass.

. . . In Get Off the Grass, Sir Paul and I investigate why New Zealanders work harder and earn less than most other people in the developed world.  In Sir Paul’s previous book, Wool to Weta, this was framed as a choice:  we choose to be poor because of the types of industries that we prioritise, such as farming and tourism, earn us relatively little per hour worked. In Get Off the Grass, we use ideas from economic geography and the study of complex systems to investigate why it has been so hard to innovate our way out of these low productivity industries. . .

With a title like Get Off the Grass, it won’t surprise you that we argue that New Zealand can and should look to do an awful lot more than just agriculture.  Some of the points we make in the book are:

  • There is a deep flaw in our reliance on the 100% Pure brand.  We need the edge our clean, green brand gives us to sell our agricultural commodities at good prices, yet the production of these commodities actually damages the environment.  See this piece I wrote for Unlimited magazine last year.
  • Economic diversity is crucial for long-term economic stability, and this in turn is crucial for growth.  The fluctuations in our dollar caused by the contamination of one of our major exports illustrates why.  The volatility caused by such crises in turn hurts other export sectors, making it even harder to get off the grass.
  • Diversity is regarded as a crucial ingredient for innovation, so our strong focus on agricultural research actually makes us less innovative as a nation, whether in agriculture or otherwise. Physics and chemistry have contributed an awful lot to agriculture, but agricultural science has not returned the favour.
  • Specialisation in a single industry is just not a good long term strategy.  No industry stays on top forever, and if your favoured industry becomes too important to fail, it will prevent you moving into other industries before it’s too late. . .

I don’t agree with all those points.

We are very innovative in agriculture and that has led to other successful innovations which earn export income, electric fences for example.

Thanks to our climate and soils we are very good at growing grass and turning it into protein.

We shouldn’t turn our backs on that natural advantage.

While the world wants our food we have a very good reason to keep on the grass – but that shouldn’t be stopping us diversifying into other exports.

There’s no need to get off the grass but we should be looking at how we can do grass plus develop other export industries.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can and should be both.


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