Social licence to operate or licence to produce – Kate Scott 2018

I was interested by the fact that many felt that New Zealand was perhaps the country feeling some of the most significant scrutiny, with a few people commenting on the fact that New Zealand’s farmers are now considered to be on the table of social standing at about the same level as the politicians.

By Kate Scott, 2018 Nuffield New Zealand Scholar

It’s not every day you walk into a room of 80 odd people and the entire room is abuzz with chatter, where people come together with a common and passionate link – agriculture and food. It’s also not every day that you get to attend the Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC) as a Nuffield Scholar.

This year we were able to travel to the proverbial home of agriculture, the Netherlands for a week of immersion in all things Nuffield, including the opportunity to hear from some great speakers, to enter into some challenging debates, see some of the amazing opportunities that the Netherlands have to grow food, as well as to hear about the challenges that the Netherlands is facing in the agriculture space. It was however surprising that despite the Netherlands producing approximately 12 billion litres of milk per year that it was not overly easy to find fresh milk for your cuppa tea!

A couple of highlights included the opportunity to cycle to the farm of 2015 Scholar Gerjan Snippe where we were able to see the inner workings of Biobrass their organic cooperative farming business, and for me a highlight was also being able to attend the Royal Holland Flower Market, a modest 270ha area of land dedicated entirely to the selling and distribution of flowers and plants! (the inside tip for those of you interested in flowers, is that ‘pastel’ colours are on trend for the coming seasons).

It was also a great opportunity to visit the recently opened World Horticulture Centre, which was a great example of collaborative use of space between industry, education and research to advance development in the Horticulture sector.  The Netherlands is truly world leading when it comes to horticulture and their ability to grow an abundance of food and produce, especially from a relatively small footprint.

I was also given the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on the ‘future of agriculture 2030’ from a New Zealand perspective. This enabled me to reflect on where we are at the moment, and what the opportunities might be for New Zealand in the future. One of the key things that came to mind for me was that there is a clear need for us to have an agriculture strategy, and that we need to focus on having the hard conversations so that there is a path forward for NZ to be the most environmentally friendly farming nation in the world. The opportunity is there for us as the leaders in the agriculture sector to seize, but we need to be brave enough to start the conversation.

Despite a jammed packed schedule at the CSC, there was also opportunity to observe some commonality amongst the various countries represented including the increasing disconnect between rural and urban communities, leading to a number of discussions around ‘social licence to operate’ or ‘licence to produce’. I was interested by the fact that many felt that NZ was perhaps the country feeling some of the most significant scrutiny, with a few people commenting on the fact that New Zealand’s farmers are now considered to be on the table of social standing at about the same level as the politicians.

There was also a lot of talk about the vegan movement, which I observed as creating a lot of angst for some amongst the room. However, where some see this as a threat to the agriculture sector, I see it as an opportunity. I don’t believe we are going to change the views of those who are so strongly engrained in their vegan view of the world, but I also don’t see that there will be a move to the majority of people choosing to be vegans (certainly not in the short to medium term).

The opportunity to focus on providing good quality, nutritious food which is known to be safe, exceeds animal welfare requirements and growing in an environmentally sustainable way is where we need to be spending our time. Those nations who can move quickly towards providing this certainty, traceability and confidence in their food, stand to prosper from the increasing knowledge that food consumers have. I believe New Zealand has the ability to lead this space.

After having spent the week in the Netherlands I am still firmly of the view that New Zealand is still at the leading edge in many aspects, and that if we can foster a collaborative approach to managing the effects of agriculture, that our future will continue to prosper as an agricultural leading nation.


Since my last note, not only do we have a new government, we also have five new Nuffield scholars.

The businesses of farming and growing have changed dramatically over the past decade. Historically, it was adequate for farmers to express a personal desire to care for their livestock and land and to ‘do the right thing’ when undertaking development projects. There was little scrutiny and our freedom to operate was largely unlimited. This is no longer the case, with a complicated landscape of approvals, monitoring and reporting, compliance and restrictions now changing the way rural businesses are operated. Both the general public and the regulators are lifting the bar on how farmers and growers produce food.

Many a rigorous debate has navigated the pros and cons of changing nutrient management regimes, protecting our waterways, reducing waste, keeping our people safe from harm, sourcing adequate capital to ensure financially robust businesses, biosecurity, customer centric marketing,  succession and the place for exponential technology. I believe that sustainable and successful rural businesses will be led by those who stay abreast  of these and many more topical issues, develop an ability to  critically analyse the options, then execute with excellence.

With this backdrop and the Nuffield objective of encouraging global vision, leadership and innovation, your board of Trustees agonises over their decisions to select the most appropriate scholars from those who apply. We seek diversity, the potential to demonstrate thought leadership, to gather and share knowledge, to understand different aspects of our production to plate supply chain,  to influence positive future outcomes for New Zealand and to ‘fit’ with our proud Nuffield culture.

Our agri business ownership structures are evolving and not all farmers own land, not all growers work full time within the farm gate. The future of work is such that technology will play a bigger part and a first chosen career is likely to be followed by many iterations of learning and doing as our future work-force reinvents themselves to stay relevant and engaged.

Our system for short listing, reference checking and interviewing scholar applicants for one of five available scholarships is now a very thorough one and a demonstration of Nuffield NZ focusing on professional management processes with outcomes which have relevance for the future.

Over recent years, the selection panel has balanced all these factors to select scholars whom we believe are ‘fit for the future. Some are hands on farmers and growers and others work alongside them to provide information and advice which is required to operate rural businesses. What these scholars all have in common is a sense of self responsibility to learn and lead and a strong desire to influence positive future outcomes for our rural ecosystem – communities, people, the environment and business. I believe a diverse and  well networked Nuffield New Zealand will continue to be a national asset.

I look forward to seeing you all at the conference in Tauranga in May and I trust you’ve saved the date already. Our recent scholars are excited about presenting to you and are ready for your feedback and searching questions. They know this is the ‘Nuffield Way’.

Enjoy a safe and fulfilling summer, fun across the festive season and look forward to 2018 with excitement and anticipation; we are all privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy another year!

Kind regards

Juliet Maclean


As the world population continues to increase, there is a corresponding need to further develop innovation within the food production model in order to sustain this increase.

However, we need to be very aware of what our place in the model is, and the number of people that we can feed.

There is huge potential for increased production from the likes of South America, who with a tweak in the way in which they farm and the inevitable gains from the use of technology could increase their output significantly.

I expect to see a drive from food as sustenance toward food as a source of enjoyment in many countries, leading to a desire for higher quality produce that may or may not be grown locally.  If our product is positioned correctly, there is an opportunity for increasing its demand and value.

New Zealand has built a strong reputation as a supplier of safe, quality product that will meet the specifications desired by the buyer. Over time, the processors of New Zealand meat have diversified the way in which the product is sold to ensure that maximum value is gained in the current state.  One of the challenges here is ensuring that the provenance of the product provided is communicated to the consumer.


As “local” food becomes a more topical issue, we need to decide whether to invest the significant sums required to design and promote consumer brands in the marketplace, or to invest in creating long-term supply relationships within the service industry.  With the mix of product that we currently provide, this may allow for more New Zealand provenance in the finished article, whilst not changing the product that New Zealand currently supplies.

We also need to decide which countries we wish to focus upon.  Discussions I had indicated that New Zealand has at times sought short term gains in price at the expense of longer term growth plans.  This can lead to markets being unable to consistently rely on New Zealand product, thereby attributing a lower price to it than if we have built the supply relationship.

Many countries continue to focus on food security from their farming systems.  As global trade attempts to break down some of these barriers, a shift in the types of farming systems to better accommodate the climatic conditions in each country will likely occur.  This may provide additional opportunities as countries realise that they are not cost competitive when producing certain products.  There is also the role of technology in food production, with examples such as vertical farming, plant based protein and synthetic protein all changing the face of food as we know it.

We need to adapt to changing production systems faster than ever, especially those that can produce consistent quality and experience every time.

The challenge for NZ is to decide how we fit into the world supply chain.  For a long period we have focused on producing the products we know we can grow, and expecting others to find a market for us.  High production and low cost have been the mantra that we have lived by.

Is there an opportunity to differentiate ourselves now on the quality and the provenance of the product to safeguard our position into the future?

Based on my travels, I think there is.

David Kidd, 2017 Scholar


Travelling around the world as part of my Nuffield experience it was clear that the other dairy producing countries hold New Zealand as world leaders in pasture fed milk production which is something we pride ourselves on. However, we can’t become complacent and as I have identified there are areas that we need to improve. One of these areas for is our on-farm leadership, particularly when it concerns our interactions with employees and how we motivate and keep them engaged.

A large number of New Zealand on-farm leaders have got to their position of leadership through long hours working on farms or up through the sharemilking system then, purchasing a farm or taking over the family farm. Often they have had no formal training around leadership styles that get the best results out of their staff or any experience managing a team prior to this.

There is also an expectation that staff will work as many hours as they did, despite not having a financial interest in the business or the same goal of one day owning a farm. Many of the next generation have a lot more opportunities as careers available to them and don’t see the current structure as a worthy career.

Research has shown that many New Zealand farm workers average between 60-80 hours a week and the most common roster is having 12 days’ work before two days off. It is no wonder that nearly 1 in 3 employees is leaving their jobs each year in the sector compared to 1 in 7 employees across most other industries (source: Statistics NZ).

Many of the farms I visited overseas had more employees per number of cows, each working on average 40-45 hours per week. Some of this was driven by legislation. This had not always led to increased wage cost as staff were paid for the time they were working and the overall number of hours worked by the entire team in a week was similar to a NZ system during the calving period.


There were also businesses that were using their employment record and practices as branding on their products with slogans like ‘employer of choice’ and ‘great employer certified’ attracting a premium locally.

Dairy NZ’s recently launched strategy includes building a great workplace for our talented workforce. The goals relate to attracting talent and getting employment best practice standards across the industry. This is a great start and having goals in place will make this measurable.

However, we need to take this further and really focus on providing leadership training on farm for managers and owners. This training shouldn’t be aimed at meeting legislation minimum standards but more at the individuals own leadership styles, so they can make changes to their own behaviour. Research shows that higher engaged work forces are more productive and create more value making fewer mistakes, which at the end of the day is most producers’ goal.

Much emphasis gets put onto the environmental issues or animal welfare concerns when it comes to the dairy industry as it directly relates to our social licence to farm in New Zealand and the perceived value in our products globally.

However, many global brands have their reputation as a good employer ranked just as high a priority, as getting this wrong often does more brand damage as consumers can relate more directly to the human element. Recent examples of this are big brands like Adidas and their customer fight back around illegal and underage labour.

We don’t want to just be an industry that is proud to be meeting employment legislation standards with good on farm conditions. Let’s be leading employment standards globally and be the recognised employer of choice for someone looking for a new career.

Jason Rolfe, 2017 Scholar