Sustainability Adds Value

(Published on 11th June 2015)

Sustainable land and water management may not be considered a priority for many businesses, yet for some within New Zealand's primary industries that could be about to change, as business leaders attending the recent Primary Industry Summit in Wellington considered the advantages and challenges of moving our primary produce 'up the value chain.'

What this means is less focus on simply increasing production volumes and greater recognition that discerning consumers in markets such as China, Australia, Saudi Arabia, USA and Europe are willing to pay more for quality produce and associated products. Despite recent food scares and the current water quality debate, New Zealand still ranks well in terms of environmental perception, which has potentially huge benefits for our primary producers. The key is ensuring the brands we build and the marketing campaigns we run are underpinned by good sustainable practice. "A good brand is a promise kept," declared one of the Summit presenters. What happens on the ground really matters!

'Trust' was a common term that kept reoccurring during the Summit. Attendees were told how consumers are increasingly looking for traits such as honesty and integrity, which in turn builds trust and leads to long term support. Therefore the 'brand' stories New Zealand producers communicate to the world must stand up to scrutiny, which means our production systems must be truly sustainable.

Farmer and landowner buy-in is an important part of making this work. While regulation and compliance will always have a role to play, other approaches can also be highly effective. NZ Landcare Trust understands the value of working alongside farmers and the positive changes that can result from an engaged and committed rural community. Once farmers and landowners appreciate the potential benefits that could come from focussing on value rather than volume, they will be far more likely to get stuck in and make it happen.

The issue of water quality remains a challenge and clearly more work is needed in this area. Dairy farming stands in the spotlight and investment in truly sustainable farm systems is being hampered by the current low commodity prices. A shift in thinking could be part of the answer, where more producers turn towards less intensive farming models that emphasise value rather than volume.

Catchment scale projects can help mobilise whole groups of dairy farmers as well as other landowners and those with a broader interest in waterways. Projects such as NZ Landcare Trust's Aorere Project clearly demonstrate how effective this approach can be. When the project began in 2006 friction between marine and dairy farmers in the Aorere catchment was high. Collingwood marine farm harvest rates had been as low as 28% due to E. coli contamination of coastal waters. NZ Landcare Trust helped get the community together to discuss the issues and identify solutions. Proactive dairy farmers made significant changes to their farm systems resulting in marine harvest rates of up to 79%, and earning the respect of marine farmers.

Looking ahead, those with an optimistic nature can see an opportunity for New Zealand, where primary industries are able to boast world leading brands underpinned by truly sustainable farming and land management systems. This is not simply a utopian vision but a robust, profitable approach where good sustainable land and water management plays an essential role, alongside smart business thinking and innovative marketing. Good for the environment and good for business.




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