Hamish Marr was humbled to be offered the role of Special Agricultural Trade Envoy but knew he had to seize the opportunity on behalf of his peers.
Marr farms a 500ha mixed arable farm with his family near Methven in Mid Canterbury.
The diverse farm system is managed as two agronomically separate operations with 400ha arable growing peas, wheat, red clover, oats, barley and vegetable seeds, producing and processing high quality seeds for global export.
The 100ha pastoral operation carries replacement dairy heifers year-round with dairy grazing on the side, while also finishing 4000 lambs under contract to be off the farm in June.
It is a diverse operation exposed to many of New Zealand’s key sectors, which gives Marr an experience across the agricultural sector.
As for being offered the role to advocate for farmers and exporters, Marr believes he has a responsibility to “give it a crack”.
“When a farmer gets approached to take the job on and you don’t step up, will we get the outcomes we want?
“If we don’t take these roles on, we can’t criticise and it doesn’t say much for the sector if we don’t get involved.
“I certainly feel it’s an honour and a privilege and I look forward to the challenges and opportunities this role will bring for farmers, exporters and all in the NZ ag sector.”
The role of the Special Agricultural Trade Envoy (SATE) is to work alongside the government to support key objectives, communicating between farmers and growers and international importers to create the best possible relationship between farmers and their international business partners.
“Understanding the needs of our customers offshore so that the farmers are producing products that the people who are purchasing our product want to buy is very specific and critical.
“It’s really about circular economy and ensuring that both sectors are engaged.
“That’s as I understand it at this stage. I still have more to learn about the specifics of the role and that’s scheduled for next week when I head to Wellington,” Marr says.
Meantime Marr sees NZ’s point of difference in that Aotearoa has a great story to tell and a lot to offer the rest of the world.
“Agriculture is our biggest export, we have to get it right, get the whole supply chain working together and that’s what motivates me to make sure that happens.
“People all round the world want to buy our product, we are a free-of-corruption food-producing nation, we have to do our best to present that and maintain our Made in NZ brand.
“We’re a small island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean so we’ve got this lovely temperate maritime climate.
“A lot of competitors are continental countries so in its simplest form, their weather patterns are completely different and the weather patterns dictate what you do.
“Our soils are young because we have only really been at it [farming] for a couple of hundred years and we’re in a production environment where we essentially have got the free-market economy, which means our farmers, by nature, are pretty agile.”
The way NZ produces food in comparison to the rest of the world is the key point of difference for exporters.
“There is a massive market for the way Kiwis farm.
“There’s a market that’s looking for our milk, our seed, our meat, our kiwifruit.
“We’re in a pretty good spot we just have to get it right.”
In his experience overseas, Marr learnt the importance of Made in NZ produce.
“We need to maintain our reputation for high-quality Kiwi products, that is the key to sustainable growth in international markets.
“People will literally jump over themselves to buy our products so it’s very, very important that we look after that brand and realise that brand is very, very precious.”
Understanding what the market wants from NZ produce will create the best opportunity for NZ farmers to make the most of international export opportunities.
Marr says his Nuffield Scholar experience will be of huge benefit in his SATE role.
“Nuffield gives you a unique perspective of agriculture and the food system, the way people live and eat and buy food.
“It puts you in a pretty amazing place in perspective to where NZ suits in all that.
Marr spent a year looking at farming systems around the globe.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing, very humbling, eye-opening year of my life.
“Looking at everything with food production and how we live and farming and politics, it was amazing and I know the experience will be a huge leg up going into this [SATE] job.”
He says he hates the term “conventional farming”, but he “looked at conventional farming, organics, regen ag and inverted commerce, rice farming, horticulture orchards, vegetable production, indoor agriculture, extensive and intensive farming all round the world”.
“There’s a whole lot of conclusions and the first one is that everywhere you go around the world is different.
“NZ is unique in the way we do things, unique in the fact that we are dominated by animal agriculture, and the fact that our farming systems are pasture-based is, again, another point of difference compared to a lot of other places.”
Marr says it’s not all beer and skittles for NZ farmers, referring specifically to cropping farmers who will face some real challenges in the next two years, not only in profitability but options as well.
“We grow a lot of high-value small seeds, of which 80% go to export and both prices and demand have fallen away over the past 12 months to the extent there are seed sheds full of seed that would have been exported that is not going anywhere in the next 12 months.”
The supply chain issues will affect farmers on the ground.
“There will be challenges with what farmers produce on their farms in the next 12 months, two years, three years because things take a little while to unwind.
“But the world wants plant-based food, so the future in any discussion going forward has to have opportunities for arable farmers because, as they say, it all starts with the seed, so the future viability of farming I see as rosy. We just have to get there.”
On July 1 Marr took over the SATE position from Mel Poulton, who has been in the role since 2020.