Sunday, April 21, 2024

Call to diversify and integrate

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New Zealand agriculture is missing the opportunity to diversify and integrate and come up with one good story. Sectors are pushing their own barrows and not achieving maximum potential as an industry, Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) chief executive Alison Stewart says.
Dr Alison Stewart, CEO of the Foundation for Arable Research, says FAR is working with 16 other plant sector groups on readiness plans for brown marmorated stink bug.
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Speaking at the Primary Industries New Zealand Summit, Stewart urged collaboration.

“We do not work in a cohesive world; when are we actually going to agree to come together?” she asked.

“We are all in these sector silos and we are missing the opportunity to diversify and integrate and come up with one good story.

“The arable sector is resilient, sustainable and profitable – up to a point.

“But if we want our industry to grow and thrive, we need to improve profitability across the board, even more so now with looming environmental legislative challenges ahead that will certainly eat into every grower’s bottom line.” 

Stewart says FAR has been proactively looking for value-add opportunities for its growers over the past five years.

FAR has worked with several companies and agencies to develop commercialisation pathways for several crops, including sunflower and oats, and is currently exploring specialty grains such as durum wheat, spelt and quinoa.

Plant-based protein crops, including soya bean, pea, hemp, chickpeas and lentils, and plant-based milk, such as oats, hemp, almond and soy, are growing opportunities for NZ arable farmers.

However, she says, the arable opportunities going forward are highly reliable on infrastructure.

“It’s important NZ gets its head around that now because arable, horticulture, and pastoral will need irrigation to sustain the success of agriculture in the future, not bloody regen agriculture,” she said.

Success is dependent on identifying and developing value-add market supply and demand, having NZ-owned germplasm-unique attributes, with ability to fit into existing arable rotation.

Low environmental footprint, biosecurity and food safety with processing capability in NZ and export potential with acceptable returns to growers are key drivers of the future.

She says there are no rewards without risk – some initiatives will succeed, some will fail, but that is the reality of new product development

A new crop with a higher gross margin of additional revenue from growing existing crop will add to the profitability of the crop rotation and continue to make arable an attractive and viable land use option for NZ.

“Growing the crop is not the problem, it’s how to get value out of it,” she said.

“We see these plant protein reports and nobody has ever talked to the arable grower to see how it would work on-farm – that annoys the hell out of me.

“Get real – is $400 a tonne for pea protein or oat milk an acceptable return to growers?

“Why would one of my growers produce seven tonnes of that when they can grow 12 tonnes of milling wheat and feed barley and get $420 a tonne – it just doesn’t make sense.

“But it does make sense to talk to us and see how we can collaborate and work as a cohesive world and stop missing potential opportunities.”

Stewart says arable ticks the boxes for being commodity and for the domestic market – the two lowest ticks you can get.

“We need to move out of that space,” she said.

“But the sector almost takes pride in operating under the radar.

“It frustrates me, they don’t want to share knowledge, they are so innovative they are their own worst enemy.

“We can have a good story in our own silo, but we can have one good whole industry story if we all get out and work together.

“There is a huge opportunity to integrate crops into livestock – we have farmers, absolute exemplars of crops and livestock farming.”

Stewart urges arable growers to get more open in sharing their successes.

“It is difficult to see what the future journey looks like without the true nature of the financial health of the industry,” she said.

“We need to understand that to make good decisions. It is very hard to make judgements and take up opportunities in the future if you growers are not sharing your farming performances.

“We need you to open up and share, to progress opportunities for you as growers and as an industry.”

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