New Zealand’s arable farmers have a reputation for being the best and most efficient growers in the world but they need to prove it, says Foundation for Arable Research chief executive Alison Stewart.
Stewart is calling for arable farmers to establish a sustainability framework to prove their crop quality and environmental credentials.
“How do you tell the arable farm story if we have no formal accreditation programme to back this up?”
Every other key arable-producing country or region has a sustainability framework, including Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, she told FAR’s conference at Lincoln.
In some countries only 20% of growers have signed up, but at least they are on the journey, she said.
Existing programmes include Leaf (Linking Environment and Farming) in the UK, Behind Australian Grain, and Horticulture NZ’s Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).
As NZ’s grain market is primarily domestically focused it had not yet faced pressure to provide such a framework.
However, food processing companies like Fonterra are increasingly requiring their suppliers to meet the quality and environmental standards sought by overseas customers.
Stewart said it is only a matter of time before this filters through to the arable sector.
A sustainability framework would apply to all crops and the whole farm business.
Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) chair Steven Bierema said arable growers are fighting to stay financially viable, while being confronted with the demands of governing bodies and consumers to reduce inputs and increase production.
“This will be a challenge,” he said.
“I often read we are the best and most efficient farmers in the world, therefore we don’t need restrictions and reporting is not necessary.
“But if we are the best, isn’t it easier for us to adapt, adopt and improve?”
Meanwhile arable farmers are encouraged to vote in FAR’s upcoming referendum to provide a strong positive result on the future of the levy funded research organisation.
Under the Commodity Levies Act, growers have the opportunity to vote to renew levy orders every six years.
FAR provides growers with a 2:1 return on investment of their levy money with $5.7 million in 2022 leveraged by another $5.6m in funding from the government, agricultural trusts, industry and commercial companies.
An average of 80 to 90 research projects are carried out each year, with at least 75% of each crop levy going back into crop-specific research and development and the other 25% going towards generic or pan-sector research activities.
Research plays a key role in making farms and businesses more resilient and FAR is committed to delivering research that adds value and future-proofs the industry, Bierema said.
Voting papers will be posted from July 21, with postal and online voting closing at 12 noon on August 23.