New Zealand’s future opportunities in food, fibre and agritech
Specialist. Niche. Top end.
That’s four words Bill Lee would use to describe the opportunities for New Zealand’s agribusiness and export industries over the next 20 years.
Bill has a long history working in, or alongside, the agri industry. He’s been a sheep and beef farmer, investor, commercialisation specialist and is a board director in a number of New Zealand companies.
The agriculture industry is at a cross roads as consumers turn their focus, and buying power, towards environmentally-friendly, sustainable products and services. The industry is being challenged to radically change its operating model, but how can they do this and where are the opportunities?
According to Bill, farmers get a hard run. People are quick to criticise them for not doing enough to rein in the negative impact of agriculture on the environment.
“Farmers are acutely aware of the need to change what they do, but at the same time they have to look at a $5 to $6 million investment and work out how to adapt it without going bust,” he said.
Technology seems to be the key that will help to maintain or increase yield while reducing the impact on the environment.
Already there is plenty of innovation in the agriculture industry, and indeed New Zealand farmers are recognised as some of the most efficient in the world.
Bill sites widespread-use of unmanned aircraft to monitor stock and weather patterns and the development of futuristic technology such as infra-red sensors to map soil composition and the use of satellite technology to measure plant growth and health.
“It makes ethical and business sense to adopt technology to improve sustainability, with lucrative markets such as China getting increasingly discerning and hard nosed when it comes to traceability and proof of environmental sustainability.”
Bill notes that Canterbury has the natural advantage over anywhere else in New Zealand with flat plains that are easy to manage, high quality soil and good access to water with a history of good stewardship.
“While not always easy to do, there are plenty of alternative business models for farmers including converting to cropping, plant-based protein substitutes, hemp production, specialist seeds, farm tourism, smarter animal production systems or even new products such as blackcurrents or manuka honey,” he said.
In Canterbury, a lot of this thinking and planning is well underway, led by the Canterbury Mayoral Forum.
The Forum, made up of mayors of all 10 territorial authorities in Canterbury, have developed a Road Map setting out the direction through to 2050 to move Canterbury to a more sustainable, productive agricultural model that supports prosperity while making the most of the region’s natural advantages.
The Map sets out actions for the Forum to lead over the next three years under the themes of collaborative leadership, open information, integrated use of land and building a skilled and agile workforce.
Waimate District Mayor Craig Rowley who has been leading the work on behalf of the Forum says, “We’re looking to create a vibrant food and fibre industry for Canterbury.
“Over the next three years we will be focusing on what’s really going to make a difference to Canterbury, such as supporting our emerging leaders, providing better access to information and open access datasets, creating food and fibre learning resources and building on Canterbury’s reputation as a centre of excellence in land and food systems innovations and policy.
“The New Zealand Aerospace Challenge 2019 is one such way that we are building capability in the region, investing in technology and supporting the use of open data to inform decision making,” he said.
Specialist, niche and top end – the words Bill Lee used to describe the opportunities for New Zealand’s place on the world agribusiness stage ring true in Canterbury’s approach to planning for the future.
Under the leadership of the Canterbury Mayoral Forum the region is positioning itself to increase value for its people and businesses through leveraging the region’s natural strengths alongside building a smart, sustainable food and fibre industry.
The Canterbury Mayoral Forum is a major sponsor of The New Zealand Aerospace Challenge 2019.