Supporting environmental sustainability in the red meat sector

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Executive Summary

With the New Zealand economy dependent on primary industries and export, New Zealanders concerned about the state of our natural environment, the ever-increasing focus on climate change, global consumers’ changing expectations and disruptive technologies challenging our existing systems and processes; significant questions for the primary industries rise.

Are our land-based farm systems fit for purpose and do our practices have a sustainable future? How can we create economic value without destroying what we value environmentally?

The primary industries are under a lot of pressure to address managing the environment and the recently proposed Fresh water package raises the discussion on how our farmers can adapt their systems to do so. So how are we, as an industry, supporting them?

The aim of this project was to investigate what support the red meat industry offers its farmers  while they are working towards achieving environmental sustainability for their farm businesses.

The method used to complete this project was a combination of literature review, data collection and qualitative research. Thematic analysis was used to bring the collected data together. It provided a framework and identified 3 main themes:



The why: industry leadership and why would farmers change what they are doing?


The what: what do the farmers need to do and what is in it for them?


The how: now the farmers knows what they need to do, how can they do it?


The main outcomes from the investigation are as follows:

  • To achieve environmental sustainability, we also need to maintain social and economic sustainability
  • Change of behavior is required
  • Farmers have different drivers than rural professionals
  • There is a lack of leadership and collaboration
  • There is a disconnect between policy makers and the service industry, mainly coming from a lack of farm systems knowledge
  • The biggest challenge goes to regulation and capability of the sector

The biggest opportunity in achieving environmental sustainability lies in the how part but support for the farmer is often the most limiting step. Hence building farmers’ and rural professionals’ capability and therefore their confidence is key.

Key recommendations as a result from this project are as follows:

  • Strive for clear regulation
  • Set SMART goals
  • Design a framework for pathways to environmental sustainability
  • Communicate actionable knowledge
  • Create engagement, commitment and collaboration in stakeholders
  • Follow up on completion and success
  • Ensure repeatability for each step of the process


Leadership that supports collaboration between farmers, scientists, industry professionals and organisations is going to be critical.  The sector needs to have a structured approach, with systems and processes in place.

My aim for this commentary is to create a discussion piece for our industry leaders and to help the primary sector develop a potential common goal or value proposition. I want to challenge our thinking about how we tackle the changes that are facing our industry.

This research uses a combination of a literature review and qualitative analysis. This allowed me to apply critical thinking, draw key themes and identify areas of key importance.

From this research, my recommendations include:

  • Market a strong value proposition for our primary industry and gain support from the government, to ensure we have economic viability
  • Facilitate better education for our growers, farmers and our own consumers, so they have the ability or option to produce and/or consume nutritionally dense food
  • Create better collaboration between leaders not only within the primary industry, but across the nation
  • Implementation of soil measurement and consistent production standards so that we are genuinely producing nutrient-dense food

More work is required to understand how soon testing of our food will be economically and practically viable, thereby changing the economic landscape for our producers. The inevitable increase in value of what they produce will be reflected in what extra profit will accrue from the production of nutritionally dense food – not the volume. This will simultaneously bring enormous quantifiable benefit for the environment.

With change comes opportunity, and challenges, to evolve our market strategy and to feed our families and the world with more nutritious food. Growth occurs at the border of challenge and support.


Putting the food back into food: What will it take for our primary industry to produce nutrient-dense food?


Our programmes work in partnership with some of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness organisations – click here for more.​