Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Fact and fiction in ag today

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Two recent examples of the different standpoints prevailing in the industry give Bryan Gibson pause.
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Last week showed clearly that we’ve still got some way to go to come together as an industry in a way that will help farming flourish.

Over the course of 48 hours I interviewed Fonterra’s director of sustainability Charlotte Rutherford about the co-op’s Scope 3 emissions plans, and the results came through from Beef + Lamb NZ’s annual meeting.

There, levy-payers voted through a remit that is simply not based in reality.

It proposed BLNZ acknowledge that New Zealand ruminants are not causing global warming and that the organisation work actively and widely to dispel the myth that livestock are causing significant global warming, requiring the need for emissions reduction.

There is a mountain of evidence that concludes food producers are part of our climate solution.

Rutherford was frank when outlining why reducing on-farm emissions was vital.

Access to capital is the chief driver. Banks and other sources of capital are not willing to be on the hook for warming the planet, which brings risk to both processors and farmers themselves.

Customers are also setting emissions reduction targets and expect the food they buy to come from like-minded sellers.

“We have many of our customers that are looking at their own emissions profiles and have put in targets to reduce them,” Rutherford told the Farmers Weekly In Focus podcast. “So the likes of Nestlé and Mars have big targets out to 2030.”

And while we often think of ourselves as a major player in the food-producing world, particularly in dairy, Rutherford is under no illusions that Fonterra’s big customers have options.

“There is a massive amount of money and time and research going into reducing methane globally. And a lot of that is [targeting] the more predominant type of farming dairy farming system, which has housed cows. 

“So there are many pieces of technology that will work in a housed-cow system that may not work so well in a pasture-based system. That’s a risk for us, that [we could be] leapfrogged by other dairy producers in the world, and they could offer a lower footprint.”

Consumer sentiment is a factor as well, but as various surveys have discovered, consumers are still slow to back their beliefs with a willingness to pay a premium for sustainably produced food.

Back at the BLNZ meeting, Jason Barrier perhaps summed up the situation best, proposing BLNZ establish a unified emissions position for the sheep and beef sector, before entering further emissions discussions and negotiations with the government.

“I’m here to talk about Team Sheep and Beef. We need to have our own house in order,” he said.

An orderly house is built on honesty, trust and sound science. 

It’s not something that can be found on social media or in echo chambers.

Our belief in our abilities to produce high-quality and sustainable food is fantastic – it’s what has driven us to where we are today.

But that belief must fuel a continued push to improve.

What we often find, however, is that many in our sector are overcome with confirmation bias – they find the evidence that suits a business-as-usual approach.

No business has ever found success sitting still, so let’s pool our knowledge and call on our innovative spirit to ensure enduring success.

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