There are lessons UK and New Zealand farmers can learn from each other to cope with changing consumer demands.
That was the conclusion of a Farmers Guardian/New Zealand Trade and Enterprise agritech webinar last week.
Farmers Guardian editor Ben Briggs was joined by representatives from three New Zealand business specialising in agritech solutions for the event entitled ‘Preserving the Future’.
The over-riding message was clear, British farmers can look to New Zealand to learn about becoming more profitable as agricultural subsidies are phased out, including by embracing technology and better use of data to drive improvements and decisions.
Adopting a more business-orientated mindset, getting out of a silo-mentality and not being held back by tradition, can also be learned from New Zealanders, panelists said.
New Zealand farmers, on the other hand, could follow the UK towards better environmental stewardship as they face mounting scrutiny from consumers.
Timothy Byrne, managing director of AbacusBio International, a New Zealand agri-business consultancy explained: “New Zealand has a strong track record in profitability and the UK has a strong record in environmental stewardship.
“It doesn’t mean either have done the other side of the coin badly, it just means there is opportunity to learn and improve,” he added.
“Farmers in New Zealand very much treat their business like a business. They went hell for leather for profitability in the early days of no subsidies, but increasingly there is a focus on environmental stewardship.”
New Zealand farmers were good at using technology and data, added Mr Byrne, and some of this could be transferable to the UK, although it was important to understand the differences in systems.
Being innovative and thinking outside the box was also an important lesson from New Zealand, said Timothy Allan, chief executive of UBCO, a manufacturer of off-road electric vehicles.
“Because of its remoteness and small economy New Zealand has built exporters and intergenerational innovators,” said Mr Allan.
“It also has a wide range of landscapes, which has made it a good laboratory for ideas. We also build partnerships abroad, look at what others do and do not worry about the rules - there are no channels and silos, we just absorb everything and find a way to cross fertilise and make it work.”
In a live poll held during the event, 67% said New Zealand and the UK worked best through farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange, while 29% said research institutions.
Farmers Guardian editor Ben Briggs said: “The NZTE webinar was a vibrant debate which showcased the future thinking which is driving agriculture forward.
"Utilising existing and emerging technology is so important for farmers as they seek to tackle the dual challenge of food production and environmental protection.”
The three agri-businesses were asked to share their top pieces of advice for a post-subsidy world.
Eurion Thomas, European operations manager at Techion UK, which uses technology to monitor disease, said: “The main learning is commercial mindset, being open to all ideas and getting things to work for you. That’s the main difference and I guess New Zealand is not held back by tradition.”
Timothy Byrne, managing director at AbacusBio International, a consultancy that supplies products and services to improve profitability and efficiency, agreed with Mr Thomas, and added: “Taking it to the farm level, it is about knowing what makes your business commercially successful and environmentally sustainable. It is about looking after people too. So it is treating the business as a business and knowing what makes it successful.”
Timothy Allan, chief executive at UBCO, a manufacturer of off-road electric vehicles, said; “Modern customers what to know where their food comes from - they want to get close to it. Traditional agriculture will always have a place and we have seen it excel in New Zealand where people have been able to tell stories to customers and transport them to where the food was produced.”
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