Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Farmers called on to work with nature

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A dream-catching vision for the primary sector requires farmers to do more to farm in balance with nature.
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Farming leaders packed a lecture theatre at Lincoln University for the launch of the Primary Sector Council’s guide for best practice, Fit for a Better World.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, who created the council said he is delighted major farmer and grower organisations support its recommendations.

“I established the Primary Sector Council to provide fresh thinking and develop a vision to help the sector navigate the environmental and sustainability challenges it faces,” he said.

O’Connor chided the pan-industry group for taking so long to deliver its first report but hopes the recommendations can be turned into a realistic and workable plan by a new pan-industry group, Food and Fibres Aotearoa New Zealand.

But it is unclear exactly what the industry can expect from the proposed partnership of the Government, industry and Maori.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly council chairman Lain Jager was circumspect about what the report signposts for farming practice and regulation.

The former kiwifruit industry boss accepts some farmers might be sceptical about the report’s stated desire for more regenerative farming practices and a call for farmers to embrace the Maori concept of taiwo – a sense of connectedness with nature.

Concepts like regenerative agriculture, a circular bio-economy and restorative agriculture speak to specific ways of farming, Jager said.

Taiao is about farming in balance with nature in a way that reflects a deep respect and reciprocity with nature. 

It might mean using water as though it’s precious and nurturing biodiversity and soil quality.

“Now that is quite different from a circular bio-economy, which is about using waste products and feeding them back into the farming system in order to have as little net waste as possible. Both of those things are important, they’re both related, but they’re not the same thing.”

Jager accepts some farmers will be wary of adopting practices that appear set to punish them for failing to meet tougher environmental standards. 

“Firstly, let me recognise that we can talk at a high level about the circular economy or regenerative or restorative agriculture but, actually, the rubber hits the road at farm level or catchment level. So, when we’re talking about this in a policy framework, what we’re talking about this is the objective – and the policy framework which we can use to support our farmers and our catchment communities to farm in a way that is in balance with nature.”

Jager said that implies a certain way of farming, added cost, a high level of capability and the application of technology. 

“And in the end, it only happens on-farm.”

Jager admitted farmers feet beaten up by people telling them they need to do better on environmental sustainability and who fail to give credit for work already done. 

“However, what I would say is that in the context of a global population this challenge is not just about New Zealand, it’s a global challenge.”

NZ is a relatively small global producer, far from its major markets but has relatively high-rainfall, a temperate climate and low population. 

“Those advantages in natural capital can actually be amplified by really good farming practice. So, that’s the conversation that we’re having.”

“It’s no good having a strategy that you can’t implement because it’s not practical.”

Food and Fibres Aotearoa NZ will be chaired by Jager, supported by fellow governors, Primary Industries director-general Ray Smith and MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain. The industry representatives will be Beef + Lamb chairman Andrew Morrison, DairyNZ chairman Jim van der Poel, Barry O’Neill from horticulture, Miriana Stephens, an existing council member and director of Nelson-based Wakatu Incorporation, and Tracey Houpapa, chairwoman of the Federation of Maori Authorities.

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