New Zealand farmers can become the heroes of climate change rather than its villains, Prem Maan says.
The executive chairman of dairy farming group Southern Pastures told farming leaders held in South Waikato that changing that mindset comes down to how dairy is produced.
The company owns 19 dairy farms across NZ as well as Lewis Road Creamery and NZ Grass Fed Products.
Outdoor grass-fed farming with due regard to animal welfare and environmental sustainability is part of the solution to the world’s nutrition and climate change mitigation needs, he said.
“We do not share the prevailing view, the negative view among some people, that dairying is the problem. We see dairying as part of the solution to climate change mitigation.”
NZ is also its own worst enemy when it comes to supporting farmers, he said.
In contrast, NZ’s biggest competitor for sustainable dairy, Ireland, celebrates its farmers. In Germany, its citizens are proud of its car industry despite it being so fossil fuel dependent, he said.
But in NZ, “people are ashamed of the dairy industry”.
“We produce the best, lowest-footprint animal protein in the world but somehow the publicity is very much against the dairy industry.”
Maan favours a cap-and-trade system rather than establishing a pricing system for agricultural emissions.
Asking how the industry can meet its climate change obligations is the wrong question, he said.
“It’s just a singular question looking at one tiny point.”
Instead, a global holistic perspective is needed that looks at climate change, biodiversity and global protein needs.
“At the moment, the only way we can meet New Zealand’s climate change needs is by reducing our protein production. That’s just nonsense.”
Such a policy does not include enhancing biodiversity, nor take into consideration global protein requirements.
“There will be carbon leakage and everything they are proposing, I hate to say it, it’s nonsense. As farmers we’re shooting ourselves in the foot and shooting the planet in the foot as well.”
The industry is already the most efficient producer of dairy in the world and if emissions are reduced here by reducing production, it will lead to leakage where other, less-efficient countries will fill that production gap.
Maan also rejected the notion that people should eat less dairy, as claimed by Eat Lancet’s Planetary Health Study published in 2019, which recommended adopting a more plant-based diet.
New research from the United Nations showed that study was “bollocks”.
“Researchers are now suggesting the consumption of minimally processed nutrient-dense food and, really, what’s better than dairy?
“If we do lose production here, it’s a lose, lose, lose scenario. We really need to learn how to farm sustainably within the farmgate and within our industry and we believe this has to become possible.”
Maan is also dismissive of claims of a takeover of plant-based and synthetic milk products.
“If you want to drink chemical soup, it’s your funeral and a free world. In terms of synthetic milk, again it’s a GMO soup so if you want it, it’s up to you.”
When Southern Pastures was still just an idea, Maan said they were driven by what he and the other directors believed was the right thing to do.
What customers want and consumer megatrends drive it, not “silly government policy”, he said.
Sustainability sells, especially with Generation Z and Millennial consumers and the dairy industry needs to take note of their spending habits, he said.
It is also the key to creating value and long-term economic success in the dairy industry. For Southern Pastures, putting that philosophy into practice meant taking its products to premium markets in the United States and Australia.
There, they target consumers willing to pay extra for products with superior attributes around health, animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
They also created their own 10-star certification and purchased Lewis Road Creamery, producing dairy products that are nutrient-dense.
“It has more omega-3’s than farmed fish and is essentially a health product.
“For us it’s been an amazingly satisfying journey to see the fulfilment of our vision,” he said.