Friday, April 12, 2024

NZ trusts its farmers – but we can do better

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Most comprehensive study to date of the social licence to farm draws on five research projects.
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The urban-rural divide is a myth, according to newly released research projects led by the Our Land and Water Science Challenge.

The five projects also found the public consider farmers themselves to be the most trustworthy source of information about food and farming. Generally, urban and rural New Zealanders agree on what “good farming” looks like. 

Farming for Good is New Zealand’s most comprehensive study of the social licence to farm, drawing on findings from five research projects conducted during 2022–2023. 

“The Farming for Good research collection is about understanding where trust and connection is strong in our food & farming system, where it might be faltering and how to build it back,” said Peter Edwards, senior researcher at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and lead on the Connecting Food Producers and Consumers research project. 

The research ‘is about understanding where trust and connection is strong in our food & farming system, where it might be faltering and how to build it back’ says Peter Edwards, lead on the Connecting Food Producers and Consumers research project.

The collection also launches alongside a social experiment, the Food & Farming People’s Panel, which brings the research to life. It asks hard questions of eight everyday people from across the food system – like how climate change makes them feel, what the farmer of the future looks like and how we solve NZ’s food security issues. 

The Food & Farming People’s Panel asks hard questions of eight everyday people from across the food system.

Topline findings across the 26-piece collection include: 

• Farmers and the public generally define “good farming” similarly. Both agree that it’s about transparency, looking after staff and animals well, maintaining biosecurity, decreasing chemical inputs and following regulations. Farmers also considered ethical and sustainability practices, good pasture management and profitability to be critical parts of “good farming”, while urban New Zealanders prioritised family-run farms with a strong attachment to place, selling locally, using good management practices, and organic/regenerative/biodynamic farming practices as traits of “good farming”.  

• 82% of public respondents thought farmers themselves are the most trustworthy sources of information, followed by scientists, some sources of media and farming industry bodies. 

• 65% of the public already feel connected to farmers and want to learn more about on-farm practices, ideally from farmers themselves.

• New Zealanders are constantly negotiating the social licence to farm. This conversation can be mapped by considering what issues are being negotiated (for example, animal welfare, protecting high-class soils or food security), the physical places where negotiation happens (farming events, media or supermarkets) and some of the ways people choose to negotiate (advocacy campaigns, product marketing or awards). 

•There is no deep divide between the general perceptions of urban and rural New Zealanders. 

•The two main concerns about farming across all New Zealanders are environmental impact and rising costs of food/farming inputs. 

• Rural and urban people recognise a disconnect between them. They blame institutions – government, the media and supermarkets – for this, rather than each other.

• Asked about progress would look like, urban people want to feel confident that farmers are taking action for the environment, and farmers want to see more positive, real stories about farming in the media.

• Food is a connection point – urban New Zealanders value farmers for the food they grow and recognise their role in creating jobs and managing the environment.

• Assurance and labelling schemes are a cornerstone of farming in NZ. They ensure compliance with regulations, which in turn underpin international trade and people’s trust in farming. But they need to evolve quickly to keep pace with technological, social, cultural and market changes. 

• Food and housing are currently “competing” with each other for land space – urban sprawl is eating up the best land for food production. A new approach to peri-urban land-use planning is needed, where landscapes are designed to provide both local food production and new housing. This approach would support urban-rural community connection, wellbeing and food resilience, among other benefits.  

In one study, bringing urban and rural businesses together to talk about sustainability resulted in a raft of changes to reduce environmental impact, and saw urban businesses looking to the rural sector for inspiration. 

“People’s sense of trust and connection with the food and farming system changes as practices, trends, tools and crises change. So this research serves as a temperature check of public sentiment and offers leaders across our communities, farming sector and government pathways to further deepen this special relationship,” Edwards said.

The five projects contributing research to the Farming for Good collection include: 

Connecting Food Producers and Consumers 

Diverse Experiences of Farming 

Enhancing Assurance Schemes 

Urban-Rural Partnerships for Equal Change 

Peri Urban Potential 

To learn more about the Farming for Good collection, visit

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