A disease equally infectious to Mycoplasma bovis and Covid-19 is threatening farm profitability and livestock health.
This was the message he gave to Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee on the opportunities our food and fibre industries have to lead our national economic recovery.
“We have long been the developed nation with the greatest reliance on growing and selling biological products to the world to pay for our schools, roads and hospitals,” he explained.
“Now, more than ever, the industry recognises it needs to step forward to ensure that our country is able to maintain the living standards we have become accustomed to.”
Proudfoot told the committee that the NZ agri-sector had spent the last decade shaping an ambition to provide outstanding, ethically produced food and fibre products to discerning customers around the world.
“COVID-19 has not changed the industry’s resolve to continue to play its part in responding to the challenges of climate change, restoring our waterways or ensuring the sustainable use of our land and oceans,” he said.
“Now is not the time to back away from these commitments, but to seek ways to accelerate our transformation so we can capture the economic benefits they will create for all New Zealanders faster.”
Proudfoot added that water, and access to it, is fundamental to the agri-sector.
“We consistently fail to store enough of our water across the country to maximise the value we grow,” he added.
“As the Government seeks shovel-ready infrastructure projects, enabling water storage schemes that guarantee year-round water must be a priority.
“Reliable water across the country will deliver economic and environmental benefits to all.”
Proudfoot said lockdowns and fears of food scarcity have raised the awareness of food and its importance in people’s lives to the highest level since the Second World War.
He added that many attributes – beyond the environment – have been amplified by the coronavirus.
“Ensuring the health benefits of our products are a value driver requires commitment to science programmes that support producers to make verified health claims when telling their stories,” he explained. “The Government can assist organisations in obtaining the proof to back their claims.”
Proudfoot highlighted how science will be an important aspect in ensuring NZ’s agri products meet the needs of consumers.
“Now is the time to initiate a wider conversation on how we utilise new solutions, like gene editing, if they support and enhance the core attributes that we as a country wish to be famous for.”
Proudfoot also touched on the lack of available labour that is currently constraining the agri-sector.
“The industry has been seeking people to support its growth for a decade and has used overseas labour to fill vacancies. Without people the industry will be unable to deliver on its growth potential,” he explained.”
“It is ready to provide career opportunities to New Zealanders. However, support is needed to attract people to the regions were opportunities exist and to provide the training to enable them to prosper in their new careers.”