Rural Support Trust chair Neil Bateup says there is a lot of apprehension among farmers about the future as they follow and experience the disruptions caused by Covid and also by the war in Ukraine.
Speaking via a recent webinar, organised by AgriTech New Zealand, Proudfoot described the event as the most disruptive ever in the global economy,
“Our experience is our biggest asset – and also our biggest constraint – is the fact that we need to overcome our educated incapacity.”
He suggests there has never been a better time for a rethink about the way we operate and open our minds up to new ways of doing things.
With the early stages of the lockdown creating irrational waves of panic buying, Proudfoot says this level of insecurity, the greatest since the 1940s and World War 2, means that food and its guaranteed availability is no longer a given.
“The level of food insecurity over the last four weeks has seen people give the freezer a good workout, but also reverting to traditional home cooked meals – a trend that will hit the suppliers of ready or high-end meals hard,” he says.
Proudfoot says that food security within NZ means around 1.25 million in the country were “food insecure”. He claims the Government will need to shift its focus from encouraging exports to a position that says we need to feed our own first.
“This might mean structured investment in rural infrastructure to attain the required levels of security and an investment in water,” Proudfoot explained. “Backing off from the intense pressure to adopt environmental schemes it is trying to place on farmers at the moment and generate a better connection between rural and urban communities.”
At the producer level, he says stricter border controls will constrain immigrant and seasonal labour, necessitating a move to mechanisation and robotics quickly and the redeployment and retraining of displaced labour or the unemployed.
“The social isolation we have seen over the last month or so has certainly accelerated the uptake of digital solutions in our day-to-day lives,” Proudfoot added. “I believe businesses will need to take this on board, probably re-inventing themselves to deliver direct to consumers, be they the growers, manufacturers or retailers.”
Discussing likely changes in future consumer spending, he thought people would be looking for lifestyle solutions that helped build immunity and minimise the risk of any future contagions.
“This means producers will need to establish products that offer unique health benefits or immunity boosting capabilities, with sales of functional and nutraceutical products going stratospheric.”
He added that the impacts of C-19 are unprecedented and will be long lasting.
“This means primary and secondary producers will need to rethink their product offerings in a period of austerity, where traditional demand will have shifted. History will recall that this crisis came about from a food safety failing, so in the future, food supply will need to be traceable, trusted and safe for the global community.”