Sunday, August 14, 2022

Food security must lead political agenda for ag

The world is facing a food crisis, but how can New Zealand farmers help? Rising costs mean producers here are struggling to maintain margins and production. Over the next few days, Farmers Weekly will cover key challenges within the primary sector and how some are navigating it.
Animal and Plant Health New Zealand chief executive Mark Ross says NZ is at risk of regulation overload.

With 800 million people going to bed hungry every night and an expected rise in the global population to 9.5 billion by 2050, food security must be at the heart of any political agenda for agriculture, Animal and Plant Health New Zealand chief executive Mark Ross says.

Addressing the NZ Grains and Pulses forum in Christchurch, Ross outlined the risks and threats of operating in a highly regulated environment, suggesting NZ agriculture is “just hanging on”.

“Many activities in NZ are free of regulatory controls, but not many in farming – not much at all.

“In the regulatory environment we are working in we are at risk of over regulation equalling under regulation because information overload sees regulation get too hard.”

Regulatory trends are happening all around the world and NZ needs to be keeping a close European watch.

Is food set to be a luxury of the wealthy?

“This is the question that resounds from reviewing the agricultural policies that Europe is seeking to adopt, policies that will have major implications for NZ food producers.

“A lot of decisions governments are making are based on emotion, we can’t have emotion ruling regulation, we have got to educate them.

“National regulations need standards with science grounded in rights and based on evidence, independently enforced and overseen, then well-crafted and discretely targeted regulation can reduce a particular risk while allowing broader benefits to remain. 

“Or do we abandon regulation altogether and allow private markets to set the rules?”

NZ exports $1.1b in horticultural products to Continental Europe making it one of NZ’s top export markets.

The chemical strategy for sustainability, part of the Farm to Fork strategy of the EU Green Deal, risks the loss of tools to manage pests and diseases and disregards the importance of affordable and healthy food for human survival.

Ross says Europe will demand imported food comply with the same environmental standards it has.

“The deal sets a precedent for all countries, especially those who rely on exports to the continent, to follow suit.” 

On a brighter note, Ross says the recent Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United Kingdom is a beacon of light for NZ primary industries as all tariffs are incrementally removed from key export products.

“This is expected to boost NZ’s GDP by up to $1b.

“However, it is unclear what a FTA with the EU and the Green Deal might offer with disrupted global energy supplies expected to impact these export markets as they drive up commodity prices, especially fuel, but also food, fertilisers, feed and aluminium.

“This will likely add pressure to already high domestic inflation and rising production costs, dampening spending power further as well as consumer and business confidence.” 

To avoid a massive food security problem, it is crucial that trade flows are not disrupted.

“Europe must be careful that its policies don’t result in food becoming a luxury and only affordable to the wealthy.

“It must also consider the ability of farmers to earn a living,” Ross said.

Meanwhile Head of BNZ exports Jason Reeves says NZ’s market opportunities are better than its neighbouring competitors.

NZ is well placed with customer demand remaining resilient, supply is the issue.

“One saving grace for NZ is our grain and pasture produce is in very high demand globally and we are not seeing any evidence of that coming off.”

Supply chain challenges are concerning, with shipping unlikely to improve within the next 18 months, while labour supply will remain constrained for some time yet amidst the global employment hunt.

The challenge for all industries will be to attract and retain talent for the NZ agritech space, Reeves said. 

Read more articles in the Food Security special report series here.

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