Sunday, August 14, 2022

Primed to meet the moment

Alan Emerson says that while the Primary Industries NZ Summit was impressive, the The Primary Industry Awards are always highlight for him. Photo: Brighstar/Facebook

I got a real buzz from the Primary Industry Summit held last week in Auckland. It was pan-industry and positive and has come a long way in a few short years; we now have more than 500 enrolled at the conference and more than 600 for the dinner and awards.

The conference got under way with a presentation from our agriculture trade envoy Mel Poulton.  I hadn’t heard her present before, but she is impressive and has the credentials: she was brought up on a sheep and beef farm, a Nuffield Scholar, a Massey agribusiness graduate, with a range of different executive roles over both national and international organisations, and a farmer in her own right. 

She also understands the issues. For a start, living in outback Tararua she had major communications issues she had to address. She did at her own expense and now she is wired to the world. 

Her main presentation revolved around the fact that we were a team, that the entire sector needed to stick together and support each other and that we needed to position NZ to open as many doors as possible.

We were now exporting to 120 countries, which I hadn’t realised.

She also said “we needed to brand ourselves”. Amen to that.

As I said at the start, she is impressive. 

I also enjoyed the presentation from American Diana Rodgers, entitled Pathways to a nutritious, sustainable and equitable food system.

She is the author of Holy Cow, which is designed to promote the goodness of meat and the necessity of animals in the food chain.

She was outspoken, entertaining and pandered to my prejudices.

Addressing the current negative views of meat she was unequivocal. They were incorrect. We need meat in our diets. She discussed meat from an ethical and environmental view, saying that you can’t have a sustainable food system without animals. 

I desperately looked for a member of SAFE at the presentation but alas they weren’t in attendance. Neither was Greenpeace. What I hadn’t realised was that much of the anti-meat brigade were there because of religious beliefs – they believe meat gave them impure thoughts. 

I must confess to being guilty of having impure thoughts, but there are none that I can honestly blame on meat.

She expressed surprise that meat received far more bad publicity than junk food and that it was difficult to be a healthy vegan.  Of those attempting veganism, 84% gave up after just three weeks.

A farmer in her own right too, she felt some of the anti-meat push came from those who were just anti-farmer. Other opposition came from commercial opposition, such as synthetic meat producers.

One quote that resounded was “there is no reason not to eat meat”.

It is impossible to cover a conference of this type in a column but I came away feeling that yes, there were lots of challenges and yes, there are things we need to change. 

My overall belief is that we can change to meet the challenges, they aren’t insurmountable. We just need unity and teamwork.

The Primary Industry Awards are a highlight for me. 

I never cease to be amazed at the talent, commitment and resourcefulness of many in our industry.

Each entrant in every category made some significant contribution to our sector. In my view all finalists were winners.

For example, MilktechZ was the winner of the Primary Industry Producer Award for its electronic cup remover. 

Principal Gustavo Gaza started his development on his kitchen table in Hamilton. The seeding capital came from a mortgage on his house. Today it employs 25 full-time staff, with more than 1000 units installed on dairy farms in NZ, Australia, the UK and Brazil.

The Bremworth story blew me away and it is to the company’s credit it is maintaining production in NZ despite it being cheaper to do so offshore. Watch this space.

Feds national board member and ex dairy head Chris Lewis is a person who believes actions speak louder than words.  This highly intelligent, low-profile toiler has done much for farming and the dairy industry in particular.  His efforts supporting skilled international dairy farm workers amongst many other achievements were recognised with the Primary Industry Champion Award.

Professor Stewart Ledgard is a modest, low-profile scientist of international repute. His contribution to agriculture has been massive. As well as being principal scientist at AgResearch, he is adjunct professor of the Life Cycle Management Centre at Massey University. With a product’s lifestyle assessment becoming increasingly relevant in the international marketplace his contribution has been considerable, as has the measurement of a products carbon footprint. Overseer is another of Ledgard’s achievements and his Outstanding Contribution Award was well-deserved.

God willing it is a conference I’ll be back for next year. It is a must-attend event and a true gathering of male and female and young and old, and the organisation by Feds and Brighstar was exemplary.

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