I first heard about Origin Green when attending the recent Dairy Farmers Forum at Mystery Creek. Ireland seemed to be embracing togetherness, right across its food and drink sectors; and not just involving primary producers, but at every step of the chain.
And the word that really caught my attention was ‘sustainability’, used in relation to every aspect of the food and drink industries.
With New Zealand Special AgriculturalTrade Envoy Mike Petersen having pleaded at the forum for setting up a new independent organisation, similar to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, to get all the threads of our food production together, it seemed the Irish might have beaten us to it.
I took the opportunity at Fieldays to spend time with Mary Kinnane, director of Enterprise Ireland Australasia, from whom I learned the concept of making the Irish food and drink industries known for their sustainability has been going on since 2008, with a huge number of stakeholders recruited since that time.
The concept originated from Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, so has had government backing all the way. In 2010 a strategic initiative named Food Harvest 2020 set out to grow the value of Irish food and drink exports by 50 per cent in the next decade, involving all possible stakeholders.
With a strong focus on carbon foot-printing, by 2011 they had achieved accreditation from The Carbon Trust for a model for dairying. Consultation with Harvard University was followed by work to develop PAS 2050 carbon footprint models, beginning with beef and since followed with other parts of the wider industry, including lamb, pigs and poultry.
By 2013 Bord Bia had partnered with Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, to develop a Carbon Navigator to monitor carbon footprint at farm level on a national scale. And each farm is measured against six efficiency measures every 18 months, and levels are audited to ensure real progress to targets is actually being achieved.
A major report in late-2015 stated 90,000 farms had been carbon foot-printed, and 95 per cent of food and drink manufacturers either fully signed up or with plans in progress. Ireland had already used Origin Green as the theme for its pavilion at the six-month Milan Expo 2015, giving it the opportunity to spread the ideas and progress to a worldwide audience.
The aim is to have 100 per cent of industry members signed up by the end of 2016.
I realise the Irish farms are comparatively tiny, enabling Bord Bia to measure carbon footprints at 800 farms a week. But what they are acquiring is a national database of the sustainability improvements being made at every level, with independent auditing being done continuously and long-term.
When Ireland makes claims about improvements in sustainability and their efforts about climate change in future, they will have the data to prove it.
At a Massey University Alumni function held in Hamilton during Fieldays, Prof Ralph Sims, of the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology at Massey, gave a stimulating talk about the inertia pervading New Zealand on climate change efforts, pointing out the lack of cohesion or leadership being shown by the multiple parties which could be making a difference.
With our science systems being expected to make profits, and the increasing lack of communication between scientists, producers and the public, the chances of New Zealand achieving anything like an Origin Green system seem somewhat remote at present.
Whereas Ireland has started with government, and incorporated measurable systems, defined recruitment processes, and set up a central database to prove they are getting somewhere.
Our countries are much the same size and population, so blaming our problems on all those four-footed animals isn’t going to continue to impress those making real and measurable efforts elsewhere.
With the present Government’s focus on passing all development of systems and measurements ‘down the line’ in relation to the environment and climate change, what are we going to be able to produce to actually prove we have made concerted efforts by the time of the next world measurement meeting?