Friday, April 12, 2024

The next wave of Kiwi farming innovation

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Our future place in the world may be defined by the quality of the meat and milk we help others to grow, says David Eade.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In this series, the lads consider New Zealand’s place in the world.

It’s February 1882. The SS Dunedin carries the first shipment of frozen meat to the United Kingdom, kick-starting New Zealand’s place in the world as an efficient exporter of high-quality protein. It took 98 days to complete the 21,818km journey and deliver NZ prowess on the world stage.

One hundred and forty-two years on and our underlying strategy is still the same – export high-quality, efficiently produced protein to our major trading partners. Barring a major tectonic or geopolitical shift, we have overcome the tyranny of distance, with primary exports breaking $56 billion last year. 

The world deals in leaps of technology, and these shifts are happening at an ever-accelerating rate. There may have been thousands of years between the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages, yet only two decades between the Computer Age and dawn of the Information Age. Based on some predictions, the world is due another major technology shift over the next two to three decades. We could be living through one right now.

NZ rode the wave of a technology shift in refrigeration 142 years ago. Further improvements in refrigeration, ships and planes have made our processes more efficient with fresh produce able to reach key export markets to a matter of hours. 

We currently look to technology to further support our competitive advantage of exporting the highest quality primary produce for the lowest cost. The next leap in technology might call our current strategy into question – instead of exporting bulky commodities we might export knowledge that reaches end customers in a matter of seconds.

We live in an age where knowledge is more accessible than ever before. Search any skill you want to learn on YouTube and more information than any human knows what to do with will be returned in under one second. 

Knowledge that used to be held and shared among a small cluster of people can now be transferred in a matter of seconds. What’s more, scale is possible with very little time and cost. 

The huge success of the Dunedin’s voyage was in achieving something that had never been done before – placing NZ-made produce on the world stage. The quality of our produce speaks for itself, but the knowledge required to create it is held deep behind the farm gate in the head of talented farmers. Exporting this knowledge could be the key to creating a world where NZ’s intangible primary sector exports (technology and knowledge) surpass tangible exports (commodities). 

We are starting to see signs of how this could potentially happen, Halter being a prime example. The remote collar initially grabs the attention of farmers looking to remove operational costs from their system as this aligns with our current wants of creating high-quality protein at a lower cost. 

The more important aspect is the underlying model, which has been built with the intuitive knowledge of NZ dairy farmers. It won’t be long before this model is making decisions for farmers and optimising production across many global dairy units. 

As the day starts for a farmer in the United States, they can log into their NZ-powered app to review today’s predictive recommendations. Knowledge is the commodity in this example, rather than the milk powder or meat produced. It does not have to be put in a container and it can scale with limited cost.  

NZ’s role in the global primary sector should extend beyond mere production. We can and should be a centre of knowledge on sustainable production, accessible to our farming colleagues across supply chains and around the world. 

To start thinking about how to make this vision a reality, imagine arriving in a developing country, tasked with imparting the secrets of profitable milk solids, the art of raising the perfect lamb, or cultivating kiwifruit with perfect taste and size. 

How would you spread your knowledge to help the most people improve quickly? What metrics would you employ to monitor progress, and how would we evaluate decision-making upon our return? How would you build trust with the people ready to pay to learn from you? 

The answers push us into brave new development spaces, like artificial intelligence, storytelling, real-time assurance and data-sharing or cross-market collaborative partnerships. 

Our future place in the world may not be defined by the quality of our meat and milk, but by the quality of the meat and milk we help others to grow. How we share our unique mental models and insights cultivated through years of experience will be the true art of innovation for NZ farming. 

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