Corrigan Sowman 2019 Nuffield Scholar – Global Insights: Food producers in pressure cooker

WE ARE not alone as New Zealand farmers, feeling the weight of change bearing down on us.

It is a global trend.

It has many different, complex drivers but two stand out – consumers’ willingness to pay for sustainability and farmers ability to capture it.

The resulting pressure is evident in a recent survey of Canadian farmers that found 45% have high levels of perceived stress, 58% met the criteria for anxiety classification and 35% met the criteria for depression.

A United States survey found 30% of farmers say mental health is a major problem for them, 48% of rural residents have more mental health challenges than a year ago, younger people are the most vulnerable and 91% of farmers/farm staff say financial issues and fear of losing their farms affect their mental health.

Recently in New Zealand a Ministry of Health Report presented to MPs showed suicide is up 20% in rural areas.

Across the world this year while doing my Nuffield Scholarship, I have seen incredible technical mastery in agriculture with yield increases, novel genetics, automation and precision and regenerative soil practices on a massive scale.

But the stats don’t lie. Farmers are under increasing pressure like never before.

To understand pressure I think there is no better place to start than with excellent Kiwi author and psychologist Dr Ceri Evans.  In Evans’ book, ‘Perform Under Pressure’, he talks about pressure as high stakes, uncertainty, small margins, fast changes and judgment.

And after my travels I’ve added a sixth, ‘losing one’s identity’.

I would like to highlight the last three because I think that is what is different right now and not just in New Zealand. Farmers are feeling overwhelmed by the pace of expected change and we are feeling judged like never before. It all contributes to questioning our identity as farmers.

Evans talks about the red and blue parts of our mind in his book. He describes our red mind as the emotions side that helps us make quick decisions in the blink of an eye, the fight, flight or freeze skills we are conditioned with from birth. Our blue mind is the logical, systematic slower-thinking part. It helps us solve complex problems and communicate them to others.

The problem with pressure, like the situations we now face with freshwater and climate regulations is we feel the weight of expectations, scrutiny and consequences building up and it triggers our red brain. 

We want to fight, we want to get out or just stop because we can’t see a future any more.

However, the focus needs on what we can control, not what we can’t. 

As farmers we are well versed in managing around aspects we can’t control like the weather, trade distortions and currency and we have built robust systems to help influence the outcomes of this uncertainty the best we can.

How we think, however, is something psychologists agree we can control.

Twelve years ago New Zealand rugby realised it didn’t understand pressure either.

Today, I suggest our primary sector could take a lead from our ABs. We might have lost in the semi but even South African coach Rassie Erasmus recognises the All Blacks’ consistency makes them the team to benchmark off. Why? They have learned how they think is as important as their technical efficiency.

Our challenge individually and as a sector is to build on the great work started by FarmStrong and endorsed by the examples in Evans’ book. Can we build our ability to be more comfortable with the uncomfortable?

We have trained our All Blacks to become masters of better decision-making under pressure. Can we train ourselves?

The regulation coming at agriculture is the gap we must overcome. Considering the information that I have heard presented during my travels it’s not unrealistic given the demands of our customers and certainly tomorrow’s customers. 

A good place to start and something every one of us can control is how we think under pressure.  If you haven’t visited FarmStrong or seen Evans’ book, I recommend them.

Cam Henderson 2019 Nuffield Scholar – Global Insights: Energy – the next ag evolution?

PRICES are good and interest rates are low but farmers’ moods are down because the regulatory pressure gives them little hope for the future.

Researchers are furiously searching for more sustainable ways of farming food and fibre but what if there was a whole new sector that could provide a light at the end of the tunnel?

As Kiwis we are all rightly proud of having over 80% of electricity come from renewable energy.

But it’s a statistic that has made us complacent.

If you consider all energy sources in New Zealand – natural gas, oil, coal and other fuels used for industry and transport – we are only 40% renewable.

All that fossil fuel energy is responsible for about 40% of our total greenhouse gas emissions and that’s a discussion that gets lost in the shadow of the agricultural methane debate.

So, what if there are solutions that not only bring down agricultural GHG emissions but in doing so bring down our energy emissions too.

It turns out some of New Zealand’s largest ag-producing competitors have already figured this out.

In California every electricity user pays a levy that goes into a fund to support large, on-farm solar installations. Farms with 1MW of solar installed on about a hectare of panels are not uncommon, providing the farmer and the state with renewable power at a fraction of the capital cost to the farmer.

In Ireland, dairy farmers are incentivised to put solar on their roofs as are farmers across the European Union.

In Germany, Northern Ireland and California bio-digestors are being subsidised to take in slurry and excess food and crop waste to produce biogas that can be further refined into biomethane. It can then be injected into the existing natural gas network.

The opportunity that really shows promise is energy crops for biofuel.

New Zealand has a short, rocky history with biofuel but we are now lagging the world in biofuel development and are one of the few Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries without a minimum biofuel level in our fuel.

The International Energy Agency outlook sees biofuels as the major renewable transport fuel at least until 2050.

And yes, that beats electric vehicles.

Biofuel is already a big user of corn in the United States and of sugar beets in the EU. In New Zealand we have huge potential for energy crops – sugar beet and corn to get us started then tree crops of willow, pine, miscanthus and other high-volume cellulosic crops as technology develops.

So, as a dairy farmer I can picture having an acre of solar panels in an unused corner of the farm. Perhaps complemented with a wind turbine and a pipe or a tanker to take my slurry to the local bio-digester. The nutrients being returned in dry form to spread on my land and 10-20% of my dairy farm in an energy crop rotation that provides animal feed and allows me to economically drop my cow numbers, methane emissions and urine nitrates by the same amount.

And all using technology that is already available.

But the underlying success factor internationally might be hard to swallow here.

It will take more policy and regulation. But this time it would be to the benefit of farming.

The simple truth is fossil fuels will always be the cheaper option.

If we want change then we need the Government to intervene to create the right environment.

Policy makers in the EU and US are still trying to perfect that policy and it requires discussion from many sides but the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy are now working together to explore further renewable energy generation opportunities.

And that would be the first step here in New Zealand, a conversation that unites our national energy and agriculture strategies.

Wouldn’t it be great for New Zealanders to see agriculture not as the climate change problem but the climate change solution.

Hamish Murray 2019 Nuffield Scholar – Global Insights: Bridging the communication gap

THERE is an increasing breakdown in the communications between young and older farmers and both are struggling to get what they want and need out of conversations.

We have a generation of farmers raised by parents who lived through World War II, which shaped their childhoods and where no one spoke about the emotional stuff of fear or weakness. No positive feedback was given or received for fear of getting a big head.

Contrast that with the generations entering the workforce today who are growing up with a constant stream of feedback via social media and online lives that is so constant they’ve never considered life could be any different.

It is no wonder our farming businesses are struggling to engage and motivate younger farm staff and those employed don’t feel valued or that they are contributing.

As someone who sits firmly in the middle of these two groups, taking over from my baby boomer father and now employing ever-increasing numbers of younger generations and school leavers. The contrast between young and old feels like the opposite ends of the paddock.

My recent Nuffield travels looking at the tech start-up world of the Silicon Valley and insights gained from those designing mobile and computer games highlighted just how constant the stream feedback is. Consciously part of the design to engage and keep players focused, gamers receive real-time feedback on their progress. They get constant updates on their travel towards the end goal including location, time remaining, amount of life or energy left, how much stuff they might have in inventory, even how other players are doing. Then, in some games, the screen or players might flash if in imminent danger.

Combine this thought with immediate likes or recognition for pictures and comments on social media and even the way our schooling system has changed from final exams for school cert, bursary or university study when I took them 15 years ago compared with NCEA and the achievement of credits throughout the year.

How does the type, volume and timing feedback we give on-farm compare? How has it evolved in the same time frame?

More than ever before those entering the workforce today crave continuous feedback.

They demand and respect those who can create a more responsive managerial style and those supervisors they can create a relationship with.  The internet has created a culture of ongoing communication and intense connectedness so it is no surprise we are beginning to expect the same standards in the rest of our lives.

Those starting out in our rural industries are equally as ambitious and hardworking as all of those before them and all want to feel valued and part of our businesses.

To contribute they want to share opinions and bounce ideas in a constructive environment and regular feedback allows that to happen while irregular and unstructured feedback keeps the conversation one-sided and in the power of the boss.

Don’t mistake the need or call for continuous feedback as a self-indulgent need for praise.

More than ever the world of employment is highly competitive for those entering the workforce.

Entry level jobs require some level of on-farm experience and this uncertain, changing environment is a challenge different from the structured one of schools and universities.

The quest is not to tell me how good I am but more what can I do better to understand where they stand and how they are performing, all part of a desire to progress and develop.

The desire for training and development through learning experiences is reported as being higher in priority for those entering the workforce than all other on-the-job benefits. Alongside formal training, continuous feedback is training in itself, because it helps to establish clear and pragmatic next steps towards objectives, so is critical in keeping our staff challenged and inspired.

From where I sit I see business owners who underestimate the incredible demand for feedback from their staff, then struggle with the tools to give it, having never had it modelled in their own lives. Versus the increasing need from those employed, who are so used to getting it continuously, without asking, they don’t know how to ask for it.

How might we bridge this gap? What capacity do we need to build?

Ben Hancock 2019 Nuffield Scholar – Global Insights: Farm societies have common issues

Ben Hancock 2019 Nuffield Scholard

FARMING the world over as much as the context, production and scale vary, shows, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

After nearly six months on the road of my Nuffield journey I was struck by the similarities across continents and farming systems.

So many of the issues we face in New Zealand can be translated to our counterparts around the world.

This highlights that we have allies in dealing with the challenges we face and that we’re not in this alone.

In many developed countries there are the same concerns of the widening gap between urban and rural communities and the challenge of attracting people into their agricultural sectors.

At an agri-tech symposium in the American mid-west, plenty of cutting-edge ideas, gadgets and technologies were proposed and introduced to solve a myriad of issues. After two days of the symposium a panel of mostly young and engaged farmers was asked what their main concerns were. They repeated a familiar concern: finding staff, especially good staff.

The dairy farmers in Kenya I visited were concerned about connecting with their consumers though the connection is a more literal one – the actual logistics of getting their product to consumers elsewhere in Kenya, regardless of whether they are small subsistence farmers or larger more commercial operations.

A reliable supply chain is of more concern than perceptions of production.

Even so, their perception in the community still helps when the almost inevitable threat of land theft approaches.

Frustration in having a political voice is a common theme in many countries and agricultural sectors.

Within a few minutes of meeting the owner of a packing house in California he asked what I thought of President Donald Trump but he didn’t want to hear what I thought. He wanted to tell me what he thought. So much of what he vented was born out of frustration of not being represented in state or federal politics or in the general public.

So how does New Zealand differ?

New Zealand does have a great reputation and it has been enabled by our government and regulators.

The trust in our production systems and goodwill in terms of how New Zealand is perceived and behaves on the international scene is an asset for our industry.

The five Nuffield scholars benefitted in our travels from New Zealand’s international reputation.

The Christchurch massacre occurred while we were in the United States. Often the perceptions of New Zealand’s reaction from locals was one of sympathy for what had happened but also an appreciation of the community’s response and Government decisiveness.

Our nation’s reputation is more important to New Zealand’s agriculture than elsewhere. Take the red meat sector. More than 90% of what we produce is exported. Our reputation matters.

After a long day riding in the back of a van across nearly the length of Romania our group of scholars reached Bulgaria. Rather worn out and hungry we found a nice enough place to eat. Lo and behold, there was New Zealand lamb on the menu.

Nothing else on the menu hinted as to where it came from. Somewhere on the border between Romania and Bulgaria our reputation still carried weight. Perhaps it was the only thing any locals would know of New Zealand.

It really hit home that our community is here, our customer is there. The appreciation for New Zealand’s image and all that it entails is valued by our customers. Yet a lot of the headwinds that are buffeting New Zealand’s agriculture sector and rural communities are generated locally.

I saw some perverse outcomes of government involvement in industries and, though I’m reluctant to admit, there might be some benefits.

For example, in Ireland, if society decides an action such as conservation or environmentalism is a priority that benefits wider society at a cost to the producer, wider society contributes in some form – whether through taxpayer-funded support or at the local checkout.

On returning to New Zealand it feels as though the support and validity gained through regulation has changed. The inundation of regulatory and societal pressure is wearing on rural communities. However, we’re not alone in this. There are seismic shifts happening globally.

The detachment between the community and consumer means the cost of demands on production are difficult to meet. Ultimately, though, the Garden of Eden can’t be demanded without someone needing to pay the full price for having that shiny apple.

Hamish Marr 2019 Nuffield Scholar – Global Insights: Attacking the noblest profession

AFTER almost half of this year travelling the world there are a lot of thoughts in my head regarding agriculture and farming.

The biggest take-home for me is the universal problem of people wanting what they haven’t got simply through believing the grass is always greener over the fence and genuinely not understanding agriculture and what is involved in food production.

This fact was spelled out very clearly to me when two environmentally minded vegans in Germany told me the problem with German agriculture was that the cows were inside a lot of the time and farmers should put their cows outside all year like New Zealand farmers do.

Of course, that bought a smile from me because in NZ the green movement wants us to put our cows inside to be more like Europe.

So, who do we believe and who is right?

It is the same argument with synthetic meat, this seemingly new food on the block is going to save the planet and the people.

My question is how can a multi-ingredient, heavily processed, made-in-a-factory product even be compared to ruminant protein?

Nutritionists and health professionals all talk of whole, nutrient-dense foods consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Animal meat is the ultimate whole food, laden with nutrients and, best of all, it can be eaten without any process intervention.

In the 1980s and 1990s everyone was going to die prematurely from heart disease from eating too much butter and the alternative and golden ticket to eternal life was margarine. Now, in 2019, there is very little margarine sold as the apparent health benefits actually never came to be.

Genetically modified plants are almost enemy number one world over through misinformation about pesticide use and apparent food safety concerns.

The marketers and lobbyists will have you believe GM has led to huge increases in chemical use and it has been a campaign to sell agrichemicals by large, multi-national companies.

In truth GM was designed so farmers would apply less chemicals, both insecticides and herbicides, and the companies would make their money selling the patented seeds.

GM corn, for example, contains a naturally occurring fungus (Bacillus thuringiensis). BT, as it’s known, is registered as the safest organic insecticide in organic and biological farming when used on its own and yet because it has been bred to occur in corn it is labelled as hazardous by the very people calling for safe food.

At some point all western countries are going to face a wall of loud, anti-farming noise and governments will respond to the voters.

In the Netherlands, France and Germany we are seeing populations calling for more regulation to limit productivity.

Farmers, personally, will be the collateral damage in what will result and this will happen in NZ at some point.

What the people making the noise fail to grasp is the effect they have on people.

Recently, I was asked by a panel about my thoughts on morale in agriculture considering how good prices are.

My response was simple. Morale is extremely low and will remain so as farmers feel targeted.

They are made to feel responsible for a multi-generational production model that successive governments and regulators have promoted.

They feel targeted by a media seemingly interested in a story and they feel targeted by groups that understand only small parts of what are very complex systems.

I can tell you first hand when you criticise what a farmer does you criticise them, their home and their very reason for being.

It is not like criticising a company that can hide behind a name. The effects are real and they are very personal. Farming is a very emotional-laden occupation and farmers feel genuinely responsible for producing a good product for those who choose not to do it themselves.

The regulations facing agriculture will not go away and they they will almost certainly change in form and the way they are administered but regulation is probably here to stay if what is happening in other countries happens here.

It seems the life of any regulation begins as noise that gets louder regardless of the facts.

We have to remember our farms are outdoor factories and what we do can be openly seen by anyone who drives down the road.

By default that makes us targets unlike any indoor factory where trucks go in one side and out the other and something mysterious happens inside.

In general, people talk only about small components of our farming systems but talk as if they are experts and you have to think that just because I have teeth, it doesn’t make me a dentist.

The challenge for agriculture is to find a way through by understanding what the people want and in doing so try to explain why farming is so complex, diverse and at the same time the noblest occupation.

Hamish Marr Nuffield 2019 Scholar
Nuffield Scholars for 2019 announcement at Parliament. Photo by Mark Coote/markcoote.com


23rd of March, 2020 in Christchurch

Details will be out soon but HOLD THIS DATE and START ROUNDING UP YOUR COHORT

We hope to keep your leadership juices going with an exciting and different one day event with some topical and new international and NZ speakers and panels. Part of the Nuffield2020 series of events & open to the wider industry- this will be a bigger and different one day event to our inaugural 2017 Kellogg Summit! There will be events scheduled around the one day Summit for Kelloggers to reconnect and explore!

Check out the website here for initial information.

Get your cohort together and organise a reunion in Christchurch!.

2019 Regional Forums – August

Come along and bring a potential Nuffielder or Kellogger as a guest!

A new initiative to connect all our alumni in each region with a chance to;

  • meet and connect with other Kelloggers & Nuffielders in your region
  • bring and introduce someone who may be interested in doing a Kellogg or Nuffield programme in 2020 or in future
  • hear some insights from recent Nuffield & Kellogg scholar reports
  • connect with possible mentors/mentees
  • give feedback and interest in ongoing professional development or local initiatives

We have to start somewhere and have identified 6 regions for this year and will then will do different regions next year. Invitations will be sent to all alumni in those regions in next week.

  • Hawkes Bay – 13th August, Hawkes Bay
  • Bay of Plenty – 14th of August, Mt Maunganui
  • Nelson/Marlborough – 15th August, Blenheim
  • Northland – 20th August, Whangarei
  • Southland/Otago – 22nd August, Gore
  • Waikato – 27th August, Hamilton

Not in these regions?
If you know some potential Kelloggers or YOU can attend one of the below, we would love to see you or them!! Just contact usprogrammes@ruralleaders.co.nz as the invitation to the forums will only go to those in each region.

To register your interest in an event, email programmes@ruralleaders.co.nz

2019 Regional Forums – August

Come along and bring a potential Nuffielder or Kellogger as a guest!

A new initiative to connect all our alumni in each region with a chance to;

  • meet and connect with other Kelloggers & Nuffielders in your region
  • bring and introduce someone who may be interested in doing a Kellogg or Nuffield programme in 2020 or in future
  • hear some insights from recent Nuffield & Kellogg scholar reports
  • connect with possible mentors/mentees
  • give feedback and interest in ongoing professional development or local initiatives

We have to start somewhere and have identified 6 regions for this year and will then will do different regions next year. Invitations will be sent to all alumni in those regions in next week.

  • Hawkes Bay – 13th August, Hawkes Bay
  • Bay of Plenty – 14th of August, Mt Maunganui
  • Nelson/Marlborough – 15th August, Blenheim
  • Northland – 20th August, Whangarei
  • Southland/Otago – 22nd August, Gore
  • Waikato – 27th August, Hamilton

Not in these regions?
If you know some potential Kelloggers or YOU can attend one of the below, we would love to see you or them!! Just contact usprogrammes@ruralleaders.co.nz as the invitation to the forums will only go to those in each region.

To register your interest in an event, email programmes@ruralleaders.co.nz

Future people capability requirements: A post farm gate perspective

Executive Summary

Major global agri-food trends and changes to the workforce in the future are expected to have an impact on people capability needed in the New Zealand primary industries. With New Zealand’s reliance on exports and competing in international markets, it is recognised that the skills and knowledge will need to keep pace with the evolving demands of society, advances in technology and changing consumer preferences across the global agri-food industry. These are expected to transform the way business is done and in particular how individuals and society interact.

In addition the current government’s focus on sustainability and the environment has also meant there has been a greater emphasis for the primary industries to transition from commodity based agricultural products to high value.  People capability, in particular skills that are required post farm gate, is a core asset that will underpin the success of gaining more value out of the products produced and adapting to the accelerating pace of change.

Focusing on the primary industries people capability requirements post farm gate, in particular concentrating on those that add value to agriculture commodities and/or creating high quality premium products and services, the aim of this research project was to:

  1. Gain an understanding of international agribusiness and workforce trends to identify how these may impact on New Zealand primary industries and the people capability required in future.
  2. Discuss the people capability requirements in relation to the primary industries post farm gate and identify core people capability themes and skill sets required by those adding value to agriculture commodities and/or creating high quality premium products and services
  3. Discuss people capability initiatives currently being undertaken by organisations/sectors in the primary industries in relation to post farm gate requirements.
  4. Identify ways to attract and build talent at a post farm gate level.

Key findings from this research project:

  • It is expected by that there will be many changes to business and within the primary industries in the next 10 years, more so than that has occurred historically. Much of this will be driven by consumer demands and technology advancements. Adapting to these while transitioning to value added export will require different skill sets and capabilities to those needed today.
  • While it is expected that by 2025 around 230,000 people out of a workforce of 369,700 will be required post farm gate, many of the current industry initiatives tend to focus on attracting and building people capability within the farm gate and at a production level rather than having a view to what skills are needed in order to gain more value out of the products produced at other levels along the value chain.
  • Many of the technical skills and qualifications that were thought to be needed post farm gate for those that add value and/or create high quality products/services were customer and market focussed. The importance of the capabilities required to develop markets internationally came through strongly given New Zealand relies on exporting the majority of what is produced by the primary industries. A review of industry people capability initiatives indicates that there is currently only a small focus on this.
  • Although a qualification and/or background in food production or the primary industries is useful, transferable ‘soft’ skills are recognised as being most important given the pace change businesses are experiencing. Agility and adaptability, attitude, communication, empathy and understanding, building relationships were rated as the top skills needed now and in future.
  • There has been a big effort to incorporate agriculture in education and engage youth with the primary industries. However there does not seem to be a supporting or coordinated industry wide approach that captures or connects the pool of potential talent that has been previously building, potentially undoing the work of these initiatives.  This occurs in particular at the post farm gate level.
  • People capabilities post farm gate require a range of skills and qualifications not specific to the primary industries and can be gained through a number of institutions. Currently sectors seem to limit post farm gate talent pool with many focusing on qualifications or specific degrees in relation to agricultural subjects received from a select few institutions.
  • Overwhelmingly the perception of the primary industries is seen as one of the biggest challenges with attracting and building people capability not just at post farm gate, but also within the farm gate. In order to attract the people capability required for the future, it was identified that a consistent overarching story/message that is exciting, relevant, inspiring, that resonates and connects the industry to food rather than the term ‘primary industries’ is fundamental.

The following recommendations are points that warrant further investigation:

  1. Determine and develop an overarching industry wide story to create a consistent message that links sectors and the industry to food more clearly.
  2. Provide increased focus on attracting and developing the skills required post farm gate at differing levels. In particular initiatives to help build international and in-market experience.
  3. Create a central platform to capture and connect the talent that is being built by current initiatives engaging with youth.
  4. Target a wider skill base than the narrow group that is currently being targeted and promoted to by current initiatives.
  5. Further investigate future workforce design and apply this to the post farm gate businesses as a way of attracting, developing and retaining talent in the industry.

There are broader aspects to this subject that have been explored but not elaborated on.  Overall it is hoped that this research project will offer insights and provide discussion points to what is needed in terms of attracting and building people capability post farm gate going forward.

People Capability in the New Zealand Primary Industries_A focus on post farm gate – Nicky Brown