Lost amidst all the doom and gloom predicted by HBRC’s staff and its holding company (HBRIC) honchos to result from the Board of Inquiry’s tough water quality regime is a positive opportunity.

If we decide we can indeed farm smarter and better.

I was reminded of this by a letter to the editor in the current North & South magazine.

The author writes: “Holland has roughly the same land area as Southland (34,000 sq km) … Holland produces $55 billion in annual agricultural and horticultural production to Southland’s $2 billion — and does so with very tight environmental regulations.”

This tracks with some comparisons made in the 2012 Riddet Institute (Massey affiliated) report, A Call to Arms, which road-mapped the way NZ could increase its agri-food exports from $20 billion in value to $60 billion by 2025.

That report noted that Canterbury is the size of Denmark, but Denmark produces over twice as much food and beverage as all of NZ, with only a slightly higher population. Italy is the same size as NZ, but feeds its larger population (60 million) and still exports twice as much food and beverage as NZ.

The experts behind A Call to Arms (HB’s own newly-knighted Graeme Avery was one of four authors) comment that meeting the growth goal would require a compound annual growth rate of around 7%. Over the past 25 years our export growth rate has been around 3%.

How might the gap be closed?

The study estimated, for example, that if the average performance of NZ’s pastoral farmers (we have plenty in Hawke’s Bay) could be lifted to the level of the top 25%, we would increase farm exports by $3 billion annually, commenting “and this is just using existing knowledge and resources”.

And the study pointed out that sustained investment in pasture renewal had the potential to lift the farm gate value of pastoral products almost 20% — from $16 billion to $19 billion.

The report also noted that our high phosphate use was a liability that needed to be addressed, especially as global supplies dwindle.

BayBuzz first wrote about Riddet’s Call to Arms in an article titled, aptly enough: Wanted: Superstar Farmers.

The point is that improved farm productivity — and profits — can co-exist with rigorous environmental protection. Every day progressive farmers prove it right here in Hawke’s Bay, elsewhere in New Zealand, and in comparable countries with whom our farm exports compete.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign that the ruling clique at HBRC/HBRIC gets the message.

Tom Belford

P.S. For the serious student, here’s A Call to Arms.

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