In a recent National Business Review article, Greens preparing for government, Matthew Hooten, noting the Green Party’s strong standing in current polls, wrote:

“The business community and the Greens will always be wary of one another but it is increasingly likely the two will have to work together through much of the rest of this decade, if not into the 2020s. For the sake of sane-ish economic policy through those years, it is to be hoped the Greens genuinely are prepared to listen to the people who create the nation’s wealth and that, for its part, the business community is also prepared to engage meaningfully.”

In February, Russel Norman gave a speech on NZ agriculture to a Green Party conference in Napier. Here are excerpts from his speech…

Smart Green Agriculture

Most of the food and fibre that our farmers produce goes off shore…

There are two kinds of food traded in the world.

There are those anonymous shipping containers of anonymous products that enter the giant commodity pool, cheap products that get moved around the world with no focus on where they are from or their other qualities. The producers of these ingredients get low prices and capture very little of the value chain – most of the value is added in the processing and retailing, and in this model that value is captured by others.

And then there are the high quality foods, products with good reputations that customers will pay more for. These are products that proudly state where they come from, how they were grown and processed. Real food grown by real people in a real country that stands behind its food exports. Real food is defined by its provenance. The producers of real food know their customers and capture much of the value from field to factory to shop.

We in New Zealand need to decide whether we want to produce industrial ingredients or real food with proud provenance.

As customers around the world increase their demand for clean, green and safe food, New Zealand has the opportunity to step in and provide real food to them. We have the opportunity to look after our environment, produce high quality food, and get paid handsomely for it.

But the track that this Government, and previous governments, have us on is a track for producing cheap industrial food ingredients. It is a track that will undermine our reputation for producing clean green and safe food.

This National Government says they plan to triple agri-food exports from $20 billion to $58 billion by 2025; they plan to do it by producing even more cheap industrial food commodities.

But is this sustainable?

Fifty two percent of our monitored waters have been classified as unsafe for swimming. Lake Tutira, just north of here, is not meant to be closed for swimming because it is a health hazard. Dairy intensification is the number one driver of increasing water pollution in New Zealand. Our six million dairy cows produce as much effluent as 84 million people.

We are also facing the challenge of climate change. Climate change is already being felt profoundly by our farmers. The twin plagues of droughts and floods are affecting the way in which we can grow food and fibre in New Zealand, and they are certainly affecting the global markets.

We need to redesign the farming system

We need to ask: what is New Zealand’s agricultural value proposition? What do we offer to our markets around the world that is special and different?

First off I can tell you what it’s not.

It’s not pouring anonymous commodity ingredients into the global pot. It’s not producing the cheapest products at whatever cost. Other agricultural production around the world can fill these markets. We have aspirations for environmental and labour standards that mean we can’t compete with those countries with lower standards.

What New Zealand can offer is clean, green, and safe food – the food that customers around the world want to feed to their kids. Food with provenance.

We can offer food customers want – food with a story of environmental protection, animal welfare, safety, and traceability. We can use our expertise to develop modern agricultural methods and technology that can also be exported, helping other countries to reduce their environmental impact and ensure clean food.

Russel Norman

New Zealand needs to do production smarter and do it loudly so that people know what we have to sell and want to buy it. We should be selling a diverse range of high quality, value added products with our name plastered all over them so that customers can ask for them by name.

Green Party agriculture spokesperson Steffan Browning has been looking into stock feed imports. He found that last year we imported 1.2 million tonnes of feed for stock. The vast majority of that, more than 90% was palm kernel meal, which is inextricably linked to deforestation of our most precious rainforests. The other imports were from countries that use genetically engineered crops, such at the 12,000 tonnes of cotton seed meal from Australia.

Last month two of our fertiliser companies had to withdraw their products from the shelf after traces of the chemical DCD were found in milk. It is difficult to overestimate the danger that these traces represent to our dairy exports.

This Government is holding our clean green brand up as a nice to have. Our Prime Minister said of our 100% pure brand that it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. But if our international markets conclude that the brand is a sham, it will all come falling down and we will lose our marketing advantage.

This is an accident waiting to happen.

Green agriculture vision

The Green Party has a vision of New Zealand with a smart, green economy that protects our environment. We don’t have an agricultural industry despite our environment, we have it because of our environment.

1. Value adding

Last year New Zealand sent 1.6 million tonnes of milk power to overseas markets. But its sale is sending jobs overseas for other workers to manufacture food products. We should be identifying those markets ourselves, manufacturing those products in New Zealand, and selling them proudly branded as Made in NZ.

The New Zealand Forest and Wood Products Industry have a vision to double their annual export earnings to $12 billion. They have a vision of being recognised as a world-leader in wood-based building materials. They want to be selling products of a higher value than logs of wood.

That’s what the Green Party means by ‘value added’, passing added value on to our manufacturers, our researchers, our exporters, our workers. Making and selling good, ethical products and ideas that are more than anonymous milk powder and logs. Really importantly, adding value in New Zealand means jobs stay in New Zealand. And that’s what New Zealanders want and need.

2. Innovation

… what does innovation look like for the agricultural sector?

It’s technology that will allow us to farm within the ecological limits. Technology that will generate energy on farms, or from waste. It’s information communication technology that will allow us to practise the most precise farming through accurate application of inputs and monitoring of soil conditions. The manufacture and intellectual property of these technologies can also make up a part of our exports.

We should also be investing into researching better techniques of farming this island of ours, such as developing crop varieties and carbon sequestration techniques.

Instead this Government is investing millions into huge levels of irrigation. $400 million in subsidies to irrigation. In contrast, we have a sustainable farming fund, which last year gave out $9 million in funds.

3. Environmental bottom lines

We will make sure that rural land is valued for its agricultural potential rather than its potential for tax-free capital gains. We will bring in a capital gains tax and limit the sale of our land to overseas owners so that farmers can afford to farm it, stay off the treadmill of debt and stay within the ecological limits of the land.

We will set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and chemical use, and increasing organics. And we will focus on securing support to reach those targets.

We will set and enforce strong national standards for freshwater, to clean up our rivers.

4. Building skills

We will support the skills development of our agricultural workforce to meet the new challenges. Our schools and universities have a huge part to play.

Massey University’s brand new Institute of Agriculture and Environment is a perfect example. Those people working to produce high quality food and fibres while protecting our environment need to be highly skilled across the spectrum.

Whether they are handling animals and monitoring their health and welfare, through to those scientists establishing the new technologies to monitor nutrient use on our farms.

5. A genuine brand

We will keep a strong eye on a 100% commitment to the 100% pure brand. It’s our ticket to getting higher global prices that reflect our higher quality products.

Here in the Hawke’s Bay, a group of local growers and producers – Pure Hawke’s Bay – has identified that their markets do not want genetically engineered foods and are committed to building this region’s reputation as a food producing region of world renown, famous for premium, high quality food, produced sustainably. Pure Hawke’s Bay recognizes the importance of the brand.

Smart green agriculture is about looking after the land, the people and the animals because it is the right thing to do and because it is the economically sensible thing to do.

It’s about growing our knowledge so that we can lead the world in how to feed people sustainably.

It’s about getting to know our customers so that we take our food of provenance from the field to the table.

Smart green agriculture means proudly getting our customers to know us, because we have nothing to hide.

It’s about providing our farmers and food producers a good life and a fair income.

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