Wednesday, 20 June 2018 09:55

Minister lays out challenges for sector

Written by  Peter Burke
Damien O’Connor. Damien O’Connor.

The way New Zealand takes on challenges and opportunities will shape the future of our food, fibre and timber industries, said Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor at Fieldays last week.

Developments in farming technology, environmental pressures and the expectations of consumers and the public are constantly evolving -- faster and faster, he said. 

“Developments in the technology of precision agriculture techniques and e-commerce are sure to open doors for NZ farmers. 

“But synthetic (plant-based) meat and milk might also lead to disruptions which could challenge our beef and dairy industries,” O’Connor told agribusiness leaders. 

“We all know that improved environmental management is not optional. Consumers at home and worldwide are demanding environmental credentials and we need to be part of that conversation or be left behind. Together we can do anything, but we can’t do everything.”

He says NZ can only feed about 40 million people and, for example, Vietnam alone has 95 million consumers who want food and fibre. So it’s time to get closer to our consumers and work smarter, not harder.

He believes that moving up the value chain will require getting closer to customers to understand what they want and what motivates them.

“Research says that consumers are willing to pay more for products they trust and value. Products with a story that resonates with consumers backed up by credible assurances will maintain and grow NZ’s global market position.”

O’Connor says primary sector faces a big challenge in the need to build capability, i.e. get people to work in the myriad jobs the sector offers.  

“The sectors and government need to work together to attract new skills and talent and provide academic leadership to cultivate the next wave of the workforce,” he says. 

“One example of this is the work MPI is doing alongside industry bodies and farmers to understand dairy farmers’ motivation for seeking professional advice.” 

O’Connor says he insists that when policymakers sit down to design the rules they take into account the unique factors that affect rural communities, such as low population density, isolation and reliance on the primary sector for employment.

Not surprisingly the minister also said a few words on the importance of biosecurity: that NZ needs widespread understanding of biosecurity and that it must become a reflex action and something everyone wants to do.


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