A right old talk fest

DairyNZ Farmers Forum with Sue Edmonds

The two days of the DairyNZ Farmers Forum at Mystery Creek last month were interesting, both for what was said and what wasn’t referred to.

The two Ministers – Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor, and Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw – put their cases strongly, both stressing the need to get on with things, rather than have a way for more wasted time. 

I sensed that the mood of the several hundred farmers was more realistic this year than at the last version, and the questions put to O’Connor in his Q&A session were based on what has to happen, rather than purely antagonistic. He even mentioned we needed some soil research, something skipped over by almost all the rest.

Between them they have set up various new committees recently, and even set them some target dates for ideas and planning, to fit round the new legislation planned for later this year. You could say that ‘hurrying’ is a new buzzword!

Economist Cameron Bagrie described what was needed was a fourth industrial revolution, this time fusing technical advances, the physical situation, digital assistance, and biological thinking.


While Kiwis have been good at the separate issues, we need to move fast to keep our innovation faster than the disruption effects. Of course money came into it, with high global debt, low productivity and an ageing demographic having to cope with the uncertainties of inflation and the dollar value.

There was a lot of talk about the scary uncertainties rushing at us from the future. Futurist Roger Dennis provided some troubling food for thought about the worldwide future lack of water, and the need to grow food in the strangest places, including multi-storey buildings in places like London. Population growth and urban expansion may yet make outdoor farming into a curiosity, despite the appetites of the rich minority. Keeping up-to-date with what is happening elsewhere will be very necessary, and our current worries may seem totally irrelevant in 10 years’ time.

The session with the heads of four milk processing companies – Fonterra, Tatua, Open Country and Miraka – clearly showed the different that size and focus make, with the three smaller ones determined to stick to their individual focus, and work closely with their own clients. Fonterra has set up its Tiaki Sustainable Dairying Programme, focusing on farm environmental plans to start with, and little mention on its marketing efforts. I think the audience fully appreciated the Miraka approach of ‘Take change by the hand before the hand grabs your throat’.

Networks and collaboration

DairyNZ’s science approach still seems fixated on growing more ryegrass, despite eight years of some very expensive research. Their Forage Value Index is definitely a mantra; and soil got mentioned by DairyNZ’s Bruce Thorrold, in one single sentence, as perhaps needing a look at.

Another futurist speaker was Julian Cribb on the future of food, who was also stressing the absolute need to recycle nutrients and water, with a farmer focus on effluent particularly.

He was also strong on synthetic meat and milk, more or less advising that if we couldn’t beat the overseas research, we could do worse than join it.

Westland Milk has been doing some serious market research and now has a joint venture with Southland to produce a superior butter – Westgold – using traditional churning and only best quality ingredients. Beginning near home, they have now spread it throughout the country’s supermarkets.

Somewhat closer to farmers themselves, a session featuring Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne, the Dairy Women’s Network trustee Pamela Storey and Dairy Environment Leaders Forum’s Corrigan Sowman spoke about the power of networks and collaboration, and how each of their organisations was attempting to strengthen this.

Federated Farmers has recently widened the range of organisations they are cooperating with.  While DWN now has lots of members, a much-used budget module and their wide-ranging conference. And Dairy Environment Leaders Forum is focusing on VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – and attempting to change it to mindset on visualisation, understanding, courage and adaptation.

Mother Nature

What I found somewhat sad throughout was the focus on what technology and the rest of the world may have in store for us, and so little about how we could simply turn our minds round from man-made inventions and look again at what Mother Nature could do all by herself if we stopped killing off the processes which her myriad creatures were created for.  Chemical farming seemingly has no long-term future, and trying to claim purity is a myth.  But currently that’s where the funds are coming from, so don’t hold your breath for change.




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