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October 12, 2010 Farm systems expert urges farmers to be world leaders

One of Australia’s leading experts on ecological and farm production systems is urging New Zealand farmers to lead the world in sustainable farming or “they’ll be out of business within 20 years”.

Barney Foran, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Land, Water and Society at Charles Sturt University in Australia says that New Zealand farmers have to realise that internationally consumers will make more and more buying decisions based on environmental impacts in the future, despite the current economic crisis.

He believes consumers now want proof that what they’re eating is based on environmental best practice on the farm and all the way to the supermarket.

It’s not a new idea but one that will become a reality as environmental stresses increasingly dominate headlines coupled with demand for animal products.

“The average meat producer may not be in business in 20 years if ecological reality bites and becomes embodied in everyday consumer decisions,” Mr Foran said.

In the latest Hatuma Update, a publication by Hatuma Lime Company sent to over 34,000 farmers, Mr Foran says New Zealand farmers need to develop a story that highlights the real numbers behind environmental certification.

“Within a decade, meat will be marketed on the basis of its total greenhouse emissions per kilogram of product as well as water quality, biodiversity assets and cultural values.

“Tomorrow’s meat enterprises will focus on product quality first, backed up by measured and low environmental impacts, austere production chains, avoidance of most chemicals and heavy metals and making farmed landscapes waterwise, biodiverse and beautiful,” he says in the Hatuma Update.

New Zealand meat producers need to be more savvy if they are to last.

He added that the way forward was the adoption of three strategic principals.

The first principle is to focus on the full paddock-to-plate chain and produce a sought-after product that attracts superior prices no matter what the economy or the season is doing.

“The shorter the distance between paddock and markets will also be increasingly important, until we wean our ships off fossil fuels, as is the continuity of supply if restaurants and local butchers are to laud the branded product.”

The second principle is that farming systems have to remain financially viable.

“Our adherence to flat earth economics where volume and inputs dominate to the detriment of product quality, stock health, pasture resilience and managerial anxiety, are now a thing of the past.

“Lowering the blood pressure of both the grazing system and its manager becomes a must in a system given to the best product grass can produce.

“Trimming of lifestyle expectation may be required along with debt reduction, less energy and chemicals, and developing flocks and herds that do the work themselves.”

The third principle is to develop the product story based on the judicious use of environmental assets and a managerial oversight of the full production chain.

Part of the story involves grasping the real numbers behind environmental certification.

Commodity “meat” will still be sold on a best price basis, but the thoughtful manager needs to distance themselves from the raw commodity trade where South America has the edge. New Zealand meat producers need to craft a new space if they are to endure.

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