Primary sector leaders believe there is considerable anxiety about the future in the absence of clear pathways through the regulations that are coming, the 2023 KPMG Agribusiness Agenda says.
Global head of agribusiness for KPMG Ian Proudfoot said people are struggling to connect to what that future looks like, and a boost of hope and energy is needed.
He titled the annual agenda report Energising a World of Anxiety.
“Perceptions of climate change have changed with recent weather events, and our food and fibre production systems are not as resilient as they need to be,” he said.
“We must accelerate the thinking around different farming systems, potentially bringing some of them indoors and investing in climate tech and biotechnologies.”
Proudfoot said it had been another challenging report to write because much is happening but there are no clear pathways ahead.
“Leaders believe that there is significant anxiety about what the future holds across the sector and concern about whether the sector and their organisations have the resources, capabilities and skills ready to respond to what lies ahead.”
KPMG polls 160 sector leaders through surveys, group discussions and one-on-one interviews.
Emerging leaders were included and for the first time the priorities of senior executives were analysed separately from those of leaders in governance roles.
Existing leaders placed a higher priority on filling job vacancies than emerging leaders, who are concerned about building the talent pipeline.
Among existing leaders, the split in those who self-identified was two-thirds executives and one-third governors.
There was divergence, with only two of the top 10 priorities ranked equally – No 1 priority being world-class biosecurity and No 4 being objective assessment of tree-planting programmes.
“Emerging leaders expressed disappointment that He Waka Eke Noa, which had shown such promise because it represented a real and genuine opportunity for true sector-wide collaboration to resolve one of its biggest challenges, appears to have faltered at the last hurdle.”
Proudfoot said the adverse weather events over summer have changed the conversations about climate change.
“With the extent of change that the sector faces, it was not surprising that leaders believed that people are looking for specific, actionable advice about the steps they should take to enhance business resilience and build a platform for future growth.”
New Zealand seemed to have an all-or-nothing approach to biotechnology, whereas other countries have found ways to have blended positions and comfortably exist in the grey.
While some industries have a strong interest in remaining GMO-free, others might see environmental and economic benefits from gene editing.
NZ has avoided the difficult discussions, but these shouldn’t be too hard to have, Proudfoot said.
“Finding ways to thrive in the grey is a critical building block to unlocking and energising the sector’s future.”
KMPG’s surveying found considerable movement this year in the top 10 priority rankings of respondents.
The top two positions, however, remained as in previous years – world-class biosecurity and high-quality trade agreements.
At No 3 is enhanced immigration settings, up from ninth position last year.
Fourth is broadband equality for all, down one place. Fourth equal is the tree-planting concerns, particularly plantations with the primary purpose of permanent carbon sequestration, as the highest of the new entries.
Sixth is acting on results of gene editing discussions, a newcomer to the top 10.
Seventh is investment in resilient rural infrastructure, another newcomer.
No 8 is accelerating innovation partnerships, down two places.
A newcomer at ninth is maximising sustainable use of oceans and 10th is telling engaging provenance stories, down two positions.
The items to fall out of the top 10 were to do with sector careers, resilient supply chains, transition to net zero and building water storage.
“The lack of discussion around water infrastructure is hard to understand, particularly given the disruptions that climate change is bringing to our traditional weather patterns,” Proudfoot said.
He suggested that approval for such schemes is so hard to get that sector leaders choose to spend their time on more productive activities.
Senior executives place a much higher priority on food security for New Zealanders than governors did.
They also ranked investment in regenerative agriculture, improvements in water quality and supporting land owners in land use change.
Conversely, governors ranked immigration settings and offshore recruitment more highly than executives.
The Agribusiness Agenda finished with a discussion about trust and its flipside, regulation.
Emerging leaders see domestic food insecurity as a breach of trust by the sector that may undermine the social licence to operate and must be addressed.