OPINION: A debate has emerged in nutrient management and fertiliser advice, brought to a head by the hype about regenerative agriculture.
Of course, there are challenges and there will be more that haven’t yet been realised. But the very fact that the country is relying on the sector to underpin, enable and drive economic growth means that there will be support. And the goodwill towards the work that the primary sector did during the Covid lockdown is still with us.
Internationally we are highly-respected for what we achieved collectively through Covid. New Zealanders listened to the science, obeyed the instructions and achieved a positive result.
What applied during Covid reflects our general attitude – when the facts are clear, we comply. This is part of why we are trusted as a food supplier. Our food is safe to eat as well as delicious. It is also what people want for health.
AMN and Mintel (consumer trend analysts) released a report at the end of 2020 indicating that half of consumers prefer foods that naturally contain beneficial ingredients. Protein and the omega-3s that are higher in grass-fed than grain-fed meat and milk fit the bill. Almost half of consumers plan to purchase more items related to health and wellness, so grass-fed meat and milk should be high on the shopping list.
New Zealand systems are also more efficient in terms of environmental impact (nutrient loss, GHG production and water use) than in other countries – producing more human-accessible protein with a lower footprint. Almond milk cannot compete and nor can lentils!
And for those concerned about organic matter and biodiversity, again, New Zealand has the edge. Soils are rich in organic matter and biodiversity is protected in the third of New Zealand that is under Department of Conservation management. It is also in the hundreds of hectares of riparian plantings, wetlands and QEII covenanted native forests.
The thousands of new native plants cared for by farmers is sometimes overlooked. Biodiversity is part of the New Zealand story, based on science and research, that will assist the marketers sell our products.
Science is key.
Science shows that our food is nutritionally dense before it leaves the farm gate. It shows that the omega-3s are there. It shows that our soils are in a good state and that farmers are managing an ever-improving system.
The research released by Our Land and Water (OLW) National Science Challenge in December showed what has been done. Over the last few decades, land managers have taken action – excluding stock from waterways and implementing new technologies for effluent management and irrigation. The effects are clear in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways.
Planting trees and installing sediment traps has assisted with reducing erosion and intercepting any sediment before it enters waterways. OLW estimates that 30% more sediment would have entered rivers during the two decades 1995 to 2015 if farmers hadn’t changed their practices.
More action is required to achieve the goal, and the research that has underpinned the primary sector is vital for the future. Deloitte made this clear pre-Covid in its report “Slice of Heaven – regions of opportunity”. Analysing potential for growth in major sectors, Deloitte pointed out that not all regions are equal, and that investment should be made in areas of natural advantage.
NZ’s primary sector has proved its worth and has a worldwide positive reputation.
For people making New Years’ Resolutions for health and the planet, New Zealand protein can’t be beaten. Add in mānuka honey, the high antioxidants in blueberries and blackcurrants, and the vitamin rich kiwifruit, plus the simple deliciousness of other fresh fruits and vegetables and it isn’t surprising that so many people want to return or emigrate to New Zealand. Add in the New Zealand wines and it is clear that the Primary Sector will continue to have a positive future.
Cheers to a successful year ahead.
- Dr Jacqueline Rowarth has a PhD in soil science and is an Adjunct Professor at Lincoln University. She is also a farmer-elected director of DairyNZ and Ravensdown. The analysis and conclusions above are her own.