BY ANDY MACFARLANE from Macfarlane Rural Business Ltd, December newsletter 2017.

We are in the midst of large conversation, led by various commentators who help to form public opinion.  Those conversations can also lead confidence in the agrifood sector and its future.

Five years ago, much of the media focus was on food security and how difficult it would be to feed nine billion people in 2050.

Today there are more opinion pieces about disruption to animal based food supply and the negative environmental and climate impact of those animals.

The extreme end of both those views is unlikely to play out, but producers and their value chain partners need to be mindful of, and concentrate on, the challenges that need to be met in order to deliver on societies expectations, as the solution will be an “and/and”, not an “either or”.

I am fortunate to be able to see great examples of early science and innovation opportunities from on farm early adopters, science ranging from ‘near to market’, to the 10-20 year impact challenges, to product, logistics, and market innovation from not just start ups, but large companies in the food sector who have the capacity to scale those innovations.

To consider “what is possible”, lets imagine if we could create an outcome where:

  • We reduce nitrate content of our groundwater by 90%.
  • We reduce P levels in streams by 50%.
  • Keep farmed animals out of streams without having to fence them.
  • We reduce urea use by 80% because grass and cereals fix their own nitrogen.
  • The plants are “pesticide” free.
  • We can filter out N&P coming from waste water streams.
  • We double the nutrient interception capacity of the root mass our plants grow with 50% more pasture growth, and 20% less greenhouse gas emissions.
  • We increase plant available N and decrease the leachable N.
  • Given we have decreased our irrigation water use per hectare by 3/7 in the last decade, we still make further water use efficiency gains of 25%.
  • We apply that water in an energy neutral manner.
  • Your soil instantly feeds back its nutrient status to your cell phone.
  • You double the life supporting capacity of your soil.
  • You increase the biodiversity on your farm five-fold.
  • Your centre pivot or drone can regularly feedback growth, moisture, disease, weeds, pests (stress) on land underneath.
  • We eliminate all rodents in major areas of New Zealand.
  • We reduce system carbon emissions by 50% per unit of output.
  • Everything you use can be recycled into another use, or food for another system.
  • Processing and transporting your product is energy neutral.
  • The consumer of your product can see your farm in real time
  • That consumer can talk to you and ask questions, even though he/she can not speak English and you can not speak their language.
  • Meat, or nutrition supplement is ordered in the morning, and is delivered the same day, on the other side of the world.
  • The impact of food on gut health is measured semi-instantly on your cell phone.
  • Your personal assistant (phone) can order nutrition to suit your activity or whereabouts.
  • You will live to 120.
  • Your diet will automatically evolve from birth to 120, and be personalised to you.
  • That diet will have attributes linked to its source and geography that can be identified for usefulness, quality, and a story.

All of the innovations mentioned above are in fact under research, or development, or confidently predicted based on progress in innovation.

Lets consider why we would invest time and financial resources to achieve the above objectives and capacity.

We could:

  • Reduce system loss by upcycling useful products.
  • Increase life supporting capacity of our natural resources for either production, conservation, or biodiversity.
  • Improve our quality of time.
  • Decrease our stress levels.
  • Improve our quality of life.
  • Improve the predictability of our requirements and the timeliness of delivery.
  • Improve our return (on the broadest sense) on capital
  • Make regulations redundant.  We could argue that if societal expectations and product capability is aligned, then “regulation would be a sign of system design failure”

So, if we want an “and/and” combination of meeting human needs in all respects and creating outcomes that outpace regulation requirements, what might we need to do given that New Zealand has an abundance in our

  • Climate
  • Topography
  • Maritime climate
  • Isolation
  • Fresh water
  • People
  • Social Equality
  • “Freshness” of New Zealand

We also need:

  • A strategic anchor (to drive discipline in execution of our strategy)
  • Awareness
  • Attitude
  • Accuracy
  • Ambition
  • Ability
  • Access
  • Adaptability

We do not need:

  • Ambivalence
  • Acceptance (of status quo)
  • Arse covering!

Ambition needs to start small, at the level we can individually achieve, before using our collective strength to work regionally, then nationally, and internationally.

A good example of how individual strength has leveraged off natural attributes and collective investment is the area I refer to as “The Green Diamond”.  That diamond has its top and bottom tips at the export “ports” and business centres of Christchurch and Timaru.  At the eastern tip is the growing science and education hub at Lincoln, and on its western boundary the manufacturing and logistics hub around Rolleston, and in the centre Ashburton, which has morphed from a primary producer to a primary processor and now to a secondary processor of value added foods leveraged off reliable supply of increasingly differentiated raw material from a supply base utilising water with dramatically increasing efficiency.

What can we do at a practical level?

  • Get hungry for knowledge.
  • Look for at it at multiple levels.
  • Look for validation at scale.
  • Treat learning as a lifelong requirement.
  • Look for innovative ways to incorporate your values into your business at a deep level.

William McDonough, an internationally known USA architect, and author of the book “The Upcycle” proposed, with others in 1992, a set of principles known as “The Hannover Principles”.

The Hannover Principles are:

  • Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse, and sustainable condition.
  • Recognise interdependence.
  • Respect relationships between spirit and matter.
  • Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural ecosystems and their right to co-exist.
  • Create safe objects of long term value.
  • Eliminate the concept of waste.
  • Rely on natural energy flows.
  • Understand the limitations of design.
  • Seek constant improvement by sharing knowledge

If you agree with all or some of those principles, then consider how your business, and business’s you associate with can:

  • Understand your “cause”.
  • Establish values for your engagement with the world
  • Work with others to establish your principles.
  • Develop strategies that are consistent with those principles.
  • Develop tactics to execute those strategies.
  • Develop metrics to measure the effectiveness of those tactics.

Collective success is a result of individual action aligned to an agreed cause, but executed with great timing.

Now more than ever, we need to be clear on what we are trying to achieve, with whom, and how.

Many of the conversations occurring around New Zealand, and the business places of major exporters are aligned to that thought process, which gives me great confidence in the progress we can make in the next decade.  The real advantage for New Zealand is to leverage opportunities that are hard to chase internationally.  Such opportunities will occur across the value chain (including low income earners, not just the world’s wealthiest) to consumers of nutrition, human health, wellbeing and lifestyle products.

Andy Macfarlane

Macfarlane Rural Business Ltd

December 2017