Thursday, April 25, 2024

NZ well-placed to ride regen wave

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New Zealand is better placed than other countries to meet the growing trend in international markets towards food and fibre products produced by regenerative practices, Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) general manager market development Nick Beeby says.
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New Zealand is better placed than other countries to meet the growing trend in international markets towards food and fibre products produced by regenerative practices, Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) general manager market development Nick Beeby says.

“That’s something all of us in this sector should be quite excited about,” Beeby said.

Beeby’s comments follow the launch of research undertaken by B+LNZ and NZ Winegrowers into regenerative agriculture’s market potential for NZ.

A summary report on the research found that although it is still in its infancy, regen ag is gathering momentum and is set to become a significant trend in food and fibre products internationally.

The report says brands and multinational businesses are starting to follow farmers’ leads in the uptake of regen ag and while the concept has yet to properly take hold among consumers as a driver of their choices, there is a growing interest in it.

It says consumers surveyed are willing to pay more for regeneratively produced food, especially if it tastes better and science can show that it is better for them and is better for the environment. There are also opportunities to link regen ag with solutions to climate change.

Beeby says NZ often forgets that farming systems here are very different from conventional systems in other parts of the world, such as North America.

“It’s almost like fish in a fishbowl, we no longer see the water,” he said.

He says it’s likely the beef and lamb sector already has the infrastructure necessary to capitalise on the regen ag trend, including farm assurance programmes like NZFAP Plus.

“We also have world-leading extension programmes and community support through our farm plans and catchment community groups,” he said.

Beeby says in the absence of a clear definition of a clear, unified definition of regen ag globally, NZ must define what regenerative means in a NZ context.

“There’s an opportunity and a risk here,” he said.

“The opportunity is that NZ steps forward and we craft that definition, which makes sense from our context.

“We need to be able to take something that’s complex and make it simple and relevant for consumers.

“The risk side of it is that others, whether they be consumers or big customers, start defining what regenerative agriculture means from their perspective – and that won’t necessarily take into account NZ farming practices or the context in which we operate.

“It’s important that NZ believes there’s an opportunity and that we define what it means for us.”

He says that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

“One of the things that came through (from the research) is that a lot of the conversation is starting to be led by big multinational companies and the gatekeepers in the market,” he said.

“Now that they are starting to stand up and take notice, things will move relatively quickly.”

Beeby says B+LNZ’s role will be to develop a framework in consultation with meat processing and marketing companies, who can then work with farmers to take advantage of the opportunity.

“We believe the key is how we tell the NZ farming story, the attributes, measurements and verifications that sit around this story and our claims,” he said.

“We know that with consumers around the world taste has always been a really big driver of purchasing behaviour.

“But it’s almost coming in waves; there’s been the food safety wave, the better for the animal (wave) and now this is about being better for the planet and better for me as a consumer or someone in that supply chain.

“It’s about broadening those attributes that consumers are seeking. It will allow us to go deeper on the storytelling and provide a more compelling argument, particularly to those consumers who are seeking this out.”

He acknowledges that not all consumers fall into that category but in developing markets, B+LNZ targets what it calls “the conscious foodie”.

“That’s the consumer that we’re really targeting with this type of a value proposition.”

Beeby says there will still be a place in the NZ rural landscape for farmers who don’t think regen is for them.

“Going down this path or looking to understand this more won’t be for everyone. This is about providing people and farmers with choice,” he said.

He says the next step is working with the meat processing and exporting sector around things like certification and standards.

“But because there is quite a bit of interest in this, I suspect some of those conversations will get started relatively quickly.”

Alliance Group general manager sales Shane Kingston says it’s clear there are different interpretations of regen ag and it is important the sector lands on a robust and transparent definition, but the research by B+LNZ is an important contribution to the discussion.

“It aligns with what Alliance is hearing from our customers and consumers in our markets such as North America, who increasingly want to know where their food is coming from and how it is being produced,” Kingston said. 

“They view the natural and sustainable way we farm as broadly consistent with regenerative agriculture principles. Antibiotic-free, grass-fed lamb in North America has never been so popular.

“The challenge for us as a food company is to now translate that into capturing value for our farmers and New Zealand.”

The research was done by New York company Alpha Food Labs, with funding support from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.

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