Climate-smart agriculture interventions are on the rise but industry leaders suggest the way forward is somewhat clouded.
A B.linc Innovation forum on farm diversification for climate change at Lincoln University highlighted how diversified farm systems can provide a safety net – but there are agroecological and socioeconomic challenges to overcome.
New Zealand farmers are increasingly utilising on-farm diversification as a strategy to adapt to climate change, but with many interventions they face barriers such as risk aversion, loss of local knowledge and limited access to agronomic and market information, Lincoln University Professor of Agriculture Economics Alan Renwick said.
The way forward is working with farmers to create diversified production systems that integrate high-value crops and traditional food production systems.
It’s now about what can make the adoption of new technologies and practices easier and how agricultural practitioners and researchers can collaborate with farmers to assist them in decision-making, Renwick said.
An environment for on-farm diversification can be enabled through networks of agricultural innovation that link farmers and organisations with private companies, public organisations, NGOs and research institutes, allowing farmers to adapt their farm systems and provide increased food security and improved income.
Environmental, regulatory and associated social pressures are prompting discussion and research on land-use change.
Sustainable land-use diversification is a broad church that can take in any number of things from alternative crops and livestock to agritourism, value-add processes, renewable energy production and non-farm business.
However, Renwick said, change is a complex business decision that needs to meet the expectations of the land manager as well as wider society.
“Some land uses, such as horticulture, have the potential for expansion due to market opportunities,” he said.
“They may have lower environmental footprints and provide a viable or even greater return, compared to current land uses, but little progress has been made in transitioning to such land uses on the scale required to reduce food production’s environmental footprint.”
Deciding on land-use change is complex for land managers, with many land uses and a multitude of factors to consider, necessitating individual decisions related to individual circumstances.
“It is also a highly individualised process with individuals’ land and motivations for change coming into play.
“Ultimately it is the land manager who decides on land-use change and to encourage transition, their decision-making process needs to be better understood and supported,” Renwick said.
Questions include what enterprises will be profitable when trying to raise revenue across all systems of the farm; is change adding value, not cost and complexity; and what are the financial and environmental implications.
“We hear talk about premium for New Zealand product, but does the cost of premium outweigh the cost of production?
“We need knowledge, we need support if we want to transform our farm systems and how farmers get information.”
Successful farm diversification needs to be well planned, fit with the skills and resources available and involve strong relationships.
“There are many ways to get diversification. The mixed farming model struggles for profitability so it must be a move from potential to reality on farm,” Renwick said.
Craigmore Sustainables general manager farming Stuart Taylor said the challenge is managing the conflict of what NZ wants and what the consumer wants.
Craigmore farming takes in 25,000ha of dairy, forestry and horticulture, employing 150 people across NZ.
The dairy operation runs a total of 32,000 cows, half of which are directly managed, with half investor owned.
Taylor also has his own dairy farm, milking 800 cows, in Mid Canterbury.
He said there are two directions for the NZ farmer – leaning into the agitator, or the regulator.
“Both can be very interesting.
“I leaned into the people making the regulation, leaning into the problem, understanding it and setting up solutions.
“NZ is reliant on our ability to innovate into sustainable food production, but we can’t do it ourselves anymore.
“We need to go to the world for solutions and we need to go back to what we are great at, innovating and solving problems.
“We need to celebrate our innovators – or be the fast follower.”
NZ is asking farmers to over-capitalise on the way they produce food, “often for no reward and likely full of risk”.
“We have got the industry bodies looking out for innovations around the world and bringing them back, but we have not individually got the resources behind the farmgate.
“We need to collaborate and do it collectively. It is the corporates’ role to do it at scale, to take the risk for the mum and dad family farmers.
“And don’t underestimate the power of the banks in the next five years. If you want to invest, invest in agritech,” Taylor said.