Jun 30, 2016

Agribusiness and the environment: the gap widens

The 2016 KPMG Agribusiness Agenda shows the massive disconnect between the New Zealand agribusiness community's "thought leaders" and the wider public, some of them farmers. Commentary by OANZ communications manager, Niki Morrell.

Category: General
Posted by: oanz

Earlier this month, Dan Steele, 2015 Nuffield Scholar and owner of Blue Ducks Station on the Whanganui River, argued in an opinion piece that the environment, rather than agriculture, was the backbone of the New Zealand economy.

Agriculture and tourism are both inextricably linked to the environment, he said. Although making no specific reference to organics, he called for a collaborative strategy for the environment, particularly in relation to farms and farming.

The next day, KPMG released its 2016 AgriBusiness Agenda, a summary of priorities currently held by the leaders of over 100 agribusiness companies and interested organisations. It wasn't pretty. 

Of the 44 priorities listed, organics got a single mention. Exploring scale organics came in at #42, five places below Initiating GE field trials. 

Preserving our clean/green reputation didn't make the list at all despite ranking #12 in 2015. But cashing in on that reputation did, with Create New Zealand provenance brands perched all the way up at #5.

OANZ chair Doug Voss said the low priority level given to organics was disappointing.

Despite the insistence of Ian Proudfoot, KPMG's global head of agribusiness and lead author of the report, that the environment featured prominently in roundtable discussions and one-on-one conversations, its first mention in the report was at  #17 (Schemes to regenerate native ecosystems), a long way behind biosecurity, more irrigation and high-speed broadband.

Farmers like Dan Steele recognise the urgency of protecting the environment. and we know from the OANZ 2016 New Zealand Organic Market Report that two out of three Kiwis are now buying organics at least some of the time. Global consumer demand for organics, with its attendant sustainable, spray-free, ethical credentials, continues to grow . So why is there such a disconnect between the priorities of our country's agribusiness "thought leaders" and everyone else? Could they really be that out of touch?

Unfortunately, it appears that they are. Until New Zealand agribusiness starts looking at the bigger picture, the risk is that they will expend huge amounts of precious environmental capital and waste the opportunities that organics offer in pursuit of creating products that fewer people at home and overseas actually want.

There is a growing recognition among leaders that doing what is right by the environment is the only responsible course of action. This is a key finding from the 2016 Agribusiness Agenda. But if the Agenda is to have any relevance in the real world, its contributors need to stop paying lip service and re-evaluate their priorities.