This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
Climate change (huringa āhuarangi) tops the charts in the recent Matrix of Drivers report from Our Land and Water.
The report updates the 35 key trends and challenges likely to affect land use in New Zealand as prioritised by primary sector experts for 2022. It compiles current, reliable sources of evidence and the latest international consumer surveys.
“Between the last two reports [climate change] jumped a lot, which was surprising given the worry about covid-19 and other big geopolitical issues,” says project lead and Lincoln University research officer Tim Driver.
“But covid-19 barely registered in this latest iteration of the report, which is interesting given how much it has been on people’s minds. It didn’t come through as we expected.”
When they drilled down into the survey results to isolate responses from those who are predominantly working directly in the primary sector, climate change was also considered the most critically important factor by a very wide margin among experts on all markets. Surprisingly, it has even overtaken water quality in New Zealand, as well as other topics ranking lower down in importance in past surveys.
“We have noticed a few changes among the rankings, like alternative proteins have dropped off a bit, but it’s not as fresh now and there’s always a buzz when new technology comes out,” Driver says.
“And biodiversity has increased in terms of importance, which is interesting, considering during the time between the previous and current survey there hasn’t really been a lot of change in the importance of a lot of factors.”
The report was produced by the Agribusiness & Economics Research Unit (AERU) at Lincoln University with funding from the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge.
Four elements feed into the report and together provide market intelligence and foresight into consumer trends and international agreements. They include the 35 key influences ranked by experts, an extensive literature review, international consumer preference studies and eight categories of future trends and challenges as identified by the research team.
The initial list of drivers likely to impact farming in New Zealand was developed in 2016 and has been expanded with each edition of the Matrix of Drivers report series, with one driver (public health) added in the 2022 report. To assess the relative importance of these drivers, in November 2021 researchers surveyed agri-sector leaders, policymakers and academics, who were asked to rank the most critical challenges and issues.
The survey was distributed to 2818 people in total, receiving 622 responses, including 251 completed surveys. It also asked participants to consider the product attributes that can help achieve higher value from a lower volume of exports. Most participants viewed the attributes of high quality, lower environmental impact of production, food safety, and low carbon footprint as very important.
The project was initiated in 2016 to look at investment into different research with an aim to increase the efficiency and productivity of production in New Zealand while at the same time protecting land and water resources.
Five issues that more than doubled in relative importance from 2017 to 2021 were climate change, extreme weather events, Māori values, cultural values and soil quality.
The team envisions that industry bodies and agribusinesses will use the research to assess the challenges affecting their sector, anticipate change, and assist producers to adapt. They also expect primary sector producers and entrepreneurs will be able to use this research to meet market demands or develop new land-use opportunities.
“When we first started the project we were wanting to be able to help Our Land and Water prioritise research funding but the reports have had much wider implications for the sector,” Driver says.
“But it’s my dream that some of this information is used to help understand some of these pressures and issues and what is driving land use practice in New Zealand to help drive decision making, especially with intense regulatory pressure.”