The Tiny Country That Feeds The World

By Turi McFarlane, 2018 Nuffield New Zealand Scholar
With a much-touted reputation as the tiny country which feeds the world, The Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products after the USA. The Dutch agricultural sector is diverse and supplies a quarter of the vegetables that are exported from Europe amongst a range of other produce.
During the CSC, we were privileged to hear and visit a wide range of farmers, researchers and rural professionals who emphasised several key themes over the week:
Farming land and succession
Three farmers a day leave farming in The Netherlands and with agricultural land selling for € 60-100,000 per hectare there are massive challenges for the next generation of farmers looking to own their own farm.
Feeding the world versus niche markets
With the world population expected to grow to almost 10 billion by the year 2050, we are regularly presented with the challenge of “feeding the world”. However, how does this align with obvious opportunities for us as a nation to focus on creating high value products which command a premium price in niche markets? Food security, particularly in Africa which is expected to see the most growth over this period is critical to us all, yet perhaps our greatest opportunity as a nation is to provide technical advice and assistance to improve the food self-sufficiency in developing countries?
New technologies
A number of new technologies were mentioned throughout the week as potential game changers. CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing is definitely seen as having great potential, offering dramatic advances in speed, scope and scale of genetic improvement. However, the debate around GM and gene editing policy is obviously alive and well – “The CRISPR conundrum”.
We also heard about research at Waginengen University in The Netherlands which has highlighted a natural variation for photosynthesis in plants. With this knowledge they are hoping to breed crops in the future which make better use of photosynthesis – opening the possibility for much higher yields and capture of carbon dioxide.

To finish  – a few interesting quotes from speakers over the week included:
“Every 20 years, the number of people depending on one farmer doubles in developed countries”.
“Climate change is here”.
“Agricultural land per capita has halved since the 1960s (worldwide)”.
“1/3 of globally produced food is wasted”.
“Lactose intolerance is more popular than skinny jeans”.

Proof of Concept: Farm Genetic Plan for Commercial Enterprise.

Executive Summary

The New Zealand government wishes to double exports by 2025. To do this they wish to increase exports from agricultural sectors to $64 billion. To help, the government has invested in Primary Growth Partnership Programmes to advance science and farm system changes. This includes improving farm management systems.

The genetic and genomic potential in the New Zealand red meat sector industries are vast and often untapped by the commercial farmer. Two key issues overlooked by the industry are;

  1. Understanding and utilisation of breeding values by the commercial farmer is limited, and
  2. The ability to benchmark own key production indicators against the genetic potential of sires is lacking in farm management systems.

Here a farm genetic plan for commercial enterprise is explained and tested on three commercial farmers. The model aims to quantify the genetic merit of the commercial flock, align the genetic merit of the flock with key performance indicators, and identify and evaluate options for improvements and/or changes within the commercial operation.

Ram team/purchases and ewe population structure was combined with Sheep Breeding Limited breeding value data to estimate genetic merit of rams, ewes and lambs within a commercial flock. Estimates of genetic merit of key traits; weaning weight (WWT), carcass weight (CWT), number of lambs born (NLB) and survival (SUR) were reported. Performance data from the commercial flock was used to calculate production statistics for reproduction (lambs tailed per ewe mated and survival from pregnancy scanning to tailing) and growth (to weaning and slaughter). Production statistics were compared against the estimates of genetic merit; tailing percent with NLB, survival with SUR, growth to weaning with WWT and growth to slaughter with CWT.

Meetings were set up with each farmer to discuss the model, clarify inputs and explain results. Feedback was sought on the model, gathering of data, result presentations and overall thoughts. The idea of a “genetic plan for commercial enterprise” was well received. All farmers were enthusiastic about the whole process. Gathering of historical data was difficult and not complete for all farms. None of the farmers knew actual ram teams used, information had to be sourced from the breeding company involved. This proved to be one limitation of the model, however, all farmers were happy with assumptions used to fill in gaps.

The main recommendation suggested by all three farmers was, that for first time users a consultant or qualified person should be used. Interpretations of the results varied and incorrect generalisations were made that could be corrected by the consultant before any decisions are made by the farmer. Overall, all t farmers enjoyed and benefited from the exercise, with a willingness to perform the exercise again the next year.

The next steps of this project are to refine the model and develop it into an online programme/application for use by consultants, breeders and commercial farmers. Finally, there is the potential to modify and extend this model to the deer and beef cattle industries.

Proof of Concept: Farm Genetic Plan for Commercial Enterprise – Natalie Pickering

Balance – successfully managing concurrent on, and off-farm, roles

Executive Summary

New Zealand’s increasing property prices, corporatisation of farming, improved communication and transportation infrastructure, coupled with continuously improving farm practice and rapid disruptive technological innovation, creates both increased need and opportunity for rural families to engage in on- and off-farm work concurrently. Modern work enabled by the aforementioned advancements, particularly the rate of digital technology change, is becoming increasingly accessible around the clock, which results in a progressively blurred line between work life and home life, with the concept of a work life balance under significant challenge. This challenge is exacerbated when farming households are engaged in pluriactivity. Pluriactivity is the situation when family members invest time off-farm, which is not a temporary situation responding to changed circumstance or shock, but rather a permanent and accepted feature of farming societies globally, that is driven by a range of diverse factors, including household, farm and spatial drivers.
The methodology employed for this research was a combination of semi-structured interviews and a detailed literature review. All interview participants were involved in both on- and off-farm work concurrently, and had professional or highly skilled off-farm employment. With the exception of one respondent, interviewees were farming sheep or beef, or grazing dairy stock, and all participants took an active/hands-on role in the farm business.
The literature research showed a strong theme that “work life balance is bunk”, and that those engaged in on- and off-farm work concurrently should rather seek “work life harmony”. Harmony was preferred on the basis that it does not create the same inherent sense of trade-offs or the over- prioritising of work in comparison to ‘life’. Harmony was seen as a better construct to break down the element of “life” into categories of family, community and self. Taking a more granular approach to life allowed individuals to bring together a number of elements in a bespoke manner to achieve success. Respondents conveyed that work life harmony had a temporal component, i.e. the importance of work and life (self, community and family) would change over time.
The research identified that to achieve work life harmony there are three key success factors and one key change in mental state that can facilitate success, they are as follows:
1. Communication and the importance of family
A success factor identified in the research was that of placing importance on relationships with loved ones when working both on- and off-farm concurrently. A consistent, although reluctant, interview response was “happy wife is a happy life” and that you can’t participate in pluriactivity alone. Family team work was supported by a focus on communication, with application of a ‘business communication’ rather than ‘family communication’ for managing multiple work interests being key
?to success. Family communication involved conversations about the farm business being a planned and deliberate action, rather than an “over the fence” or “over breakfast” conversation. The need for “doing the business” was contrasted by a requirement to know when to “box off” the various work components, so as to prevent either the family farming business or the off-farm work becoming an encroachment on the important business of family.
2. Visioning: know the end for a number of games
The importance of having a documented vision was another success factor to emerge from the research, and was a key contributor to the achievement of better work life harmony. Further, documenting the vision resulted in individuals having a clearer focus on what was important and what the end point looked like, while providing the ability to monitor progress towards time-bound, regularly reviewed goals.
It was also clearly identified that for a vision to result in increased work life harmony the goals needed to be as strategic and all-encompassing as possible, with visioning not limited to the farm business, corporate career or family goals individually, but broader in considering either the “Five F’s: family, fitness, farm, finance, fun” or Freidman’s ‘Four Circles’ of work, family, community and self. The focus of any vision needs to be strategic with a range of operational planning documents, such as 1 year and 5-year farm plans and personal development plans sitting beneath a holistic and all-encompassing vision that establishes the basis, or ‘the why’, upon which to make important decisions.
3. Simplified systems, technology and creativity
A final success factor that came through consistently was deliberate simplification of on-farm systems, through either altering stocking rates, changing stock class or outsourcing tasks. In all situations the aim was to make the on-farm work easier given significant time pressures, and the additional income coming from the off-farm activity reducing the absolute need to be achieving maximum farm efficiency. While all respondents were very busy and often managed systems to reduce the number of mundane tasks, the research and literature suggested that they should not be eliminated altogether, particularly when engaged in pluriactivity, with simple monotonous tasks often being the time “eureka” moments occur, so the value of “tractor time” for creative or entrepreneurial thinking should not be under-estimated.
Building upon these three success factors, a key change in mental state was identified with a focus on “being” rather than “doing” key for those successful in pluriactivity. To embrace these states of being there is a requirement to take on the following:

  • Be deliberate: prioritise family as a non-negotiable time commitment
    • make this component equivalent to your most important appointment in the other spheres of your life.
  • Be pragmatic
    • simplify your farm system to make it work for your individual situation
  • Be holistic and strategic: develop a vision, include four circle granularity
  • Be an individual
  • Be present: avoid multi-tasking
    • aim for integration but restrict multi-tasking to where it does not affect the primary task.
  • Be realistic, be mindful
    • understand that you cannot achieve all of your life goals at once, there will be a requirement for some priorities to be fulfilled sequentially rather than concurrently
  • Be a ‘geek’
    • embrace technology as appropriate to make your life more harmonious

The South Island Kiwifruit Market: Should we Cooperate.

Executive Summary

There are three main factors influencing Kiwifruit Growers profitability, productive yield, cost of production and the return they receive for the crop they produce.

When a kiwifruit crop is put through a packhouse, it is separated by size and quality into four grades. Class 1 and 2 are usually exported, class 3 is usually sold on the New Zealand domestic market, and class 4 is usually sent for processing or used as stock feed.

The major factor influencing a kiwifruit growers total return is the return they receive for the fruit that is exported (normally 85 – 98%). But the return from class 3 fruit sold on the New Zealand domestic market also has an important impact on a growers total return, and hence overall orchard profitability.

The purpose of this report is to look at the South Island domestic kiwifruit market, and consider if there is a potential benefit to South Island kiwifruit growers from cooperating in their sales and marketing efforts.

The South Island Kiwifruit Market: Should we Cooperate? – Paul Thomas

Farmers and social media: Communication, connection, community.

Executive Summary

Instinctively as human beings we want to communicate. When children fail to speak their first word on time at the designated age, modern parents rapidly seek a medical and scientific reason for this failing in their offspring. Sometimes not reaching milestones is a good indicator of something not being well with the child and sometimes the child is just doing things in his own time. The alarm it brings to the adults in the child’s world indicates the importance of communication. Communicating connects us to first to the community of our family and so on as we grow and become independent, ideally expanding our community and communities as we grow.

Social media in this age of technology is our voice. The voice of a person who isn’t always sure they have something of worth to say but is pretty sure there are others out there in the cyber world who are of a similar mind, stage, experience in life. Social media starts out as a communication, a word, a post, a static statement that invites comment, responses and connection. Connection is a discussion, ongoing comments, a shared and retweeted statement, photos and stories becoming a community. Community, online is a fluid group of strangers and friends that welcome and regulates each other and guests, that fluctuates in numbers at any given time, that dies a natural death only to be resurrected by a new comment from a passerby.

When our physical community isn’t enough, our social media communities fill the gap; add value and validity to our efforts and our days, giving us knowledge and education, friends and sometimes even family.

“Facebook wants to populate the wilderness, tame the howling mob and turn the lonely, antisocial world of random chance into a friendly world, a serendipitous world” (Grossman)

The philosopher Descartes is best known for teaching the Latin saying “I think, therefore I am” as a tagline for explaining that we exist when we think for ourselves, test information given us and understand that most information that comes our way is an opinion. However in our modern time the saying could be rewritten as “I communicate, therefore I am” maybe reversing or embracing the very point Descartes was making.

Farmers and Social Media: Communication, Connection, Community – Sarah Russell

What’s wrong with the 50/50 sharemilking contract.

Executive Summary

Something seems wrong with the 50/50 contract because it is in decline. Sharemilking in New Zealand has been the main stepping stone up the Dairy Industry career pathway into farm ownership since the early 1900s. It has been a way of learning skills and at the same time building valuable equity for a dairy farmer to make that transition from stock ownership into farm ownership. Sharemilkers have been the muscle of the dairy industry working directly at the coalface to achieve long term farm ownership gratification from determined years of hard work and sacrifice. Many Farm Owners can attribute their financial success to the Sharemilking pathway. That pathway has now narrowed with declining 50/50 Sharemilking Contracts on offer. Farm workers are losing the only true opportunity to achieve dairy farm ownership. These are changing times in the dairy industry and so career pathways must also change. This report looks at the 50:50 Herd owning Sharemilker and asks why is the 50/50 Contract in decline and what is wrong with it?

What’s wrong with the 50/50 Sharemilking Contract! – Matthew Pepper

Operating mechanics of New Zealand’s four main rural retail businesses.

Executive Summary

New Zealand has four prominent rural retailers, Ashburton Trading Society (ATS), Farmlands, RD1 and PGG Wrightson (PGW). Each of these businesses core, is providing farmers with goods and services. Over recent years we have seen numerous mergers and amalgamations, leading to the marketplace we have today.

Each business is having success in different areas, contributing to their ability to provide goods and services on farm at a sharp price. There seems to be little attraction for each business to compete head to head with each other, instead providing a healthy market place of “Low margins, low overhead costs, and input costs.” (Jason Minkhorst RD1)

The future looks bright for each of these businesses, with numerous opportunities and growth strategies available to them all. Of course, this does not come without threats and game changing market place revolutions. The will see constant battling and drive a to see who can claim that number one spot.

Operating Mechanics of New Zealand’s Four Main Rural Retail Businesses – Wayne Langford

Pipfruit sector: mechanisms for waste minimisation.

Executive Summary

Each of these areas, discussed either individually or collectively, has the potential to increase marketable yield and minimise waste through the supply chain directly or indirectly. The solution to reducing fruit waste and gaining efficiencies “lies in a combination of planning, investing, controlling, and partnering across the supply chain.” (Harz-Pitre 2013) The pipfruit industry needs to collaborate, create better transparency and technology transfer if it is to be successful in further minimising waste.

Growing pipfruit is complex; it is a dynamic biological system with many layers. Waste occurs throughout the growing cycle and the supply chain from the paddock to market. Waste fruit (apples) can account for 15 – 30% of the harvestable export crop and can be as high as 35%. The key stages of waste are: in the field, grading, and packing, storage and at retail and beyond. It is important to understand that gaining efficiencies is necessary to minimise waste. There are many mechanisms for waste minimisation and all have varying degrees of complexity. Waste is a component of all practices, processes, and procedures. One of the key drivers to reducing waste in the orchard system is the development and adoption of simple architecture. Simple architecture allows better crop load management, which is critical in reducing waste downstream in the production cycle. The impact of achieving the correct crop load can be as much as $15,000 to $29,000 per hectare. “There are 3 management practices that have a large effect on crop load: 1) pruning, 2) chemical thinning and 3) hand thinning” ( Robinson et al., 2013). Using quantitative rather than qualitative pruning strategies can reduce the inputs required for the remaining two  management practices.

Chemical thinning, which relies on timing, rates and weather windows, is often variable and unpredictable. However, precision thinning which bundles new emerging technologies, such as carbohydrate modelling and new chemistries, is providing greater control. A good chemical thinning strategy can significantly reduce hand thinning to $1000 – $2000 per hectare, which could otherwise cost as much as $8,000/ha. The ability to optimise crop load is a critical component to minimising waste because significant amounts of waste are generated by getting it wrong. Crop load has a direct influence on yield recovery, and more specifically on marketable yield.

A key mechanism for increasing recoverable yield and reducing waste is good tree architecture, which allows for simpler management, and a reduction of inputs. Traditional systems or larger, denser canopies do not lend themselves to high yield recovery and high quality fruit, due to their complexity. The shift from more traditional canopies will be the catalyst for the move to greater mechanisation, because tree architecture that is Simple, Narrow, Accessible, and Productive, (SNAP) is more fruitful, less demanding, and allows for more mechanised forms of pruning, thinning and harvesting. Through their simplicity, they are creating synergies that will help speed the adoption of mechanised technology and precision farming. Growers that are on the path to full emergence in SNAP canopies currently are benefiting from the options of being able to implement partial mechanisation through harvest-assist machinery and platforms which increase productivity, are less physically demanding, attract staff, and broaden the labour pool. They require less supervision and can help increase yield recovery. Using platforms, compared to ladders, can reduce pruning and fruit thinning costs by $1,400 per hectare. SNAP canopies allow for greater light interception and increase fruit quality, spray deposition, and colour. As mechanisation advances and the technology for harvesting systems advances, a greater proportion of grading will occur in the field. Thus, reducing transport, grading, cold storage costs, and the resources required to carry out these procedures. The ability to send higher quality fruit through the orchard gate will significantly reduce waste along the supply chain.

Colouration is also linked to tree architecture, crop load, and climatic conditions, which all affect colour development. Fruit foreground colour is becoming more important as New Zealand growers focus on Asian markets where high-grade coloured fruit receives premiums. The ability to manipulate colour has significant economic benefits and increases recovery of marketable yield. The use of reflective cloth can increase the amount of fruit harvested by as much as 25%. However, the capital investment can cost up to $16,000 per hectare. The plant growth regulator, Ethephon, could be a more cost-effective alternative to help improve fruit colouration. Research has that use of Ethephon resulted in a greater volume of fruit, harvested earlier and overall, with less fruit left on trees post-harvest. The use of Ethephon, it is estimated, could increase a gross margin by $10,000 per hectare. The use of Ethephon in combination with SNAP canopies has the potential to significantly reduce waste by increasing marketable yield.

Dry matter concentration (DMC), a new quality metric for apples, has greatly increased the ability to measure quantitatively a fruit’s quality attributes. Since the introduction of DMC, “many producers have seen a marked reduction in product rejection from overseas super markets related to quality” (Plant and Food, 2011) DMC is also showing promise as a predictor of internal disorders such as browning. The cost of internal browning to the supply chain is $200 per bin before it enters the market! The ability to determine lines of fruit that have greater risk of internal disorders will greatly reduce waste and reduce economic loss of stored fruit. Perhaps the most significant tool in the post-harvest sector that has reduced waste is 1 – methylcyclopropene ( SmartFresh™), a compound that inhibits ethylene allowing better control of fruit maturation. This technology has allowed fruit to maintain better flesh firmness (crunch), a key retailer and consumer specification, reducing the amount of fruit that is rejected in market. Smart Fresh™ has enabled fruit to be stored for longer while maintaining good condition, significantly reducing waste. New markets in less developed countries are also benefiting as SmartFresh™ technology is bridging the gap where cool chain is not developed or consistent.

Perhaps the largest area of waste yet to be fully realised, is the retailer and consumer. Waste in this area is less controlled by the actions of growers and more by the perceptions of the market place. The demand of consumers has placed high product specifications on growers, ultimately causing large amounts of waste. British “supermarkets reject between 20 and 40% of farmers’ produce, often on purely aesthetic grounds.” ( EuroMonitor , 2012) “Tesco has also revealed that 40% of apples were wasted and a quarter of this is in the home”. (Smithers 2013)

The question remains : how we can influence consumers to minimise waste?

Pipfruit Sector: Mechanisms for Waste Minimisation – Grant Mckay

Which perennial ryegrass to sow.

Executive Summary

  • This study stems from the common farmer complaint, that there are too many perennial ryegrass options on the market, this number conservatively estimated at over 50, with a few and limited tools available to farmers to aid them with variety choice for their pasture renewal programme.
  • A survey is conducted of 16 Dairy Women’s Network Regional Group Convenors in semi-structured, conversational format and previous industry surveys were reviewed to provide insight into how decisions are made based on the limited resources.
  • Predictions that farmers largely rely on ‘people’ sources to assist their decision making processes were confirmed. While not hypothesized, the information shared at farmer discussion groups and ‘over -the-fence’ style conversations ranked highly as a valued information source.
  • Information gathered and the ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ model of Rogers (5th Edition, 2003) was used to create a matrix of predicted response to methods of transferring information about perennial ryegrass variety by farmer segment to provide useful paths for a Seed Company to target the specific groups.

Which perennial ryegrass to sow? – Michaela Soper

Farming mums NZ: The next step.

Executive Summary

Two years ago, I had an idea of adding a ‘one-stop-shop’ website into the brand that is, Farming Mums NZ.

The aim of this study is to determine whether further, specific support and resources are wanted or needed by the Farming Mums NZ community and to initiate a game plan on how to get it started. After Kellogg, I will look at the implementation of my concept and I will surround myself with professionals and advisors who can help me make this happen.

To avoid replication among other organisations, my aim is to create an online platform where each aspect of our industry can be brought together in one place and utilise each of our strengths to create a comprehensive and personalised website with member requested additional content and information not found elsewhere.

To determine whether this would be well received, I formed a 10 part, Survey Monkey questionnaire (Appendix 2). I attached the link into a post in the Farming Mums NZ Facebook Group to get a more accurate view on whether I was looking at the issue from the right angle.

Farming Mums NZ has the social aspect, the forum and the largest numbers giving it a community- feel, meaning great exposure, a dedicated following and a large amount of the ‘Next Generation’ of farmers, farming mums and rural women.

Other organisations I will be looking to collaborate with include Rural Women NZ, Agri-Womans Development Trust, Young Farmers, Dairy Woman’s Network, Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa, Young Rural Ladies, Primary ITO, Regional Community Connectors, AuPair Link, Newcomers Networks, Maori Woman’s League, Farmstrong, Fit4Farming, As well as the wider agricultural industry organisations. I.e. Beef + Lamb, Dairy NZ, FAR.

The support and collaboration between these organisations would be the best use of the website and I believe would add value to each of them. Each organisation could give a valuable contribution of resources and information from a different area of the industry and expertise, creating a whole and well-rounded knowledge base. In saying that, having full support industry wide won’t determine whether the concept goes ahead.

Nadine Porters Kellogg report from earlier in the year highlighted the need for us to all work together. I agree completely with this point and believe it is the best way forward to form a well- rounded support system for our wider industry rather than each organisation offering separate ideas, overlooking key points or risking replication.

”Who is the voice for rural women? There seems to be confusion among women as to who is representing them. Rural women groups urgently need to co-ordinate and develop a collective strategy in today’s environment.” Nadine Porter, 2016

The results from the survey were positive and with 660 participants it helped to build confidence around the idea and what was most important to those who will be most likely to benefit. 96% of respondents were on board with the idea.

Having the brand “Farming Mums NZ” or similarly named, along with the large page support and reputation bringing this initiative together, is going to be the best way to engage the largest number of technologically savvy women. I also see FMNZ as an independent in the middle of these other mentioned groups with no particular industry bias or current monetary influence.

Farming Mums NZ: The next step – Chanelle O’Sullivan