Infinite Suppliers of Food to New Zealand and the World

10 Jul 2019 Infinite Suppliers of Food to New Zealand and the World  image

I don’t think we realise how rapidly technology is changing, not only the way we live but how we work.  It is almost unseen and fortunately so far, we seem to be rapidly assimilating these changes into our daily life.  Simple examples are ATM machines replacing tellers and airline check-in kiosks replacing that human touch.  But will the adoption of rapid technological advances continue?

There are other factors that are going to cause massive disruption.  The first is a double-edged sword: climate change.  This has two aspects: the changing environment with longer dry periods and more adverse weather conditions; and the Government’s response to New Zealand’s climate change commitments through the Paris Agreement. 

In the next few weeks, the Interim Climate Change Commission’s report and the related discussion document will be released.  Only then will the full impact on urban and rural New Zealand become apparent. 

It will be very dramatic but my concern is whether we will have the tools and know-how to meet the Government’s targets.  It is not enough to predicate change by setting targets and not provide funding for research and development.  New tools and investment in tech transfer are needed so urban New Zealand, farmers and growers can adapt. 

In my view we need to look at what tools we can and have to develop as the highest priority. The Government in its Wellbeing Budget provided some funding to assist with this.  However, the bottom line is if we are to be able to achieve change and reach the targets, we all need to have practical and easy to use solutions.  Today, these are not available and so we need to turn to technology for the solutions, but that costs money.

All this will require a substantial rethink about how we as a country are living and in the rural sector, how we grow our food.  That is not an easy transition.  Here, technology through robotics has a key role to play.  We struggle to find sufficient labour for a large number of jobs in New Zealand.  The only solution lies in the funding of programmes to enhance robotics on orchards and in commercial vegetable gardens, to supplement and enable the skilled workers we employ.  Capital is needed to enable this research.

But the biggest disruptive force is the consumer.  Horticulture has for many years paid close attention to what the consumer wants and, as a result, has developed premium markets offshore. 

Those consumers’ tastes are moving to a strong focus on healthy food for wellness, which includes a move away from animal to plant proteins.  As the commentators have observed, this move is being funded by some of the wealthiest individuals and corporates in the world. 

Impact on New Zealand

The impact on what we grow back here in New Zealand will be profound.  This is a triple impact: actual climate change; the Government’s response to it; and what our premium consumers are demanding.  There is an enormous consumer tsunami of change sweeping the world and New Zealand is well placed to capitalise on it.  The crunch point is that we will not capitalise on it by doing what we are doing today.  My fear is we will be locked in the past, like possums in the headlights. 

In the excellent KPMG Agri-business Agenda 2019, the authors say that surviving and indeed capitalising on this consumer wave will require ‘playing an infinite game… and thriving through wellness’.  They accurately state on page 58 that ‘in an environment of dramatic and continuous disruption, the biggest risk facing organisations is maintaining relevance’. 

My interpretation of this is that we must embrace constant change and capitalise on it by developing, as the report says, ‘new capability to enable (growers) to retain a sustainable position in the markets they choose to play in’.  My only point of difference is it is not a ‘game’ or ‘play’ – we are fighting for our very survival in this ‘infinite game’. 

The questions that need to be asked are:

1. Are we committed to growing enough healthy food to feed New Zealand, let alone the premium consumers in the world?

2. Is regional and central government going to join forces with industry to enable us to grow the healthy food we need so desperately, instead of tying us up in red tape?

3. Are we going to move past the blame game and work collectively to enable our sustainable future?

4. Are we going to become infinite suppliers of food, first to New Zealand and then to the world?  #Feed_our_5M_FIRST

So, are we ready to ‘play the infinite game’?  I don’t think so.  We are still time warped in the paradigms of the past.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive