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


Welcome to our latest edition of Enuff, the third this year, all of which we hope will help to keep you updated on our latest operational activities, scholar insights, scholar news and upcoming events.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Enuff and on behalf of the staff and the Trustees we wish all Alumni and Investing Partners a great Christmas and New Year!

The Team at Rural Leaders

A Quarterly Update from the GM

NZ Rural Leadership Trust (NZRLT)

Anne Hindson, General Manager Rural Leaders

In this December update, Anne provides a snapshot of the Rural Leaders NZRLT activities for the last quarter.  

Read Anne’s full update here.

Anne Hindson
General Manager

2020 Scholars

2020 Scholars pictured from left to right: Phil Weir, Tracy Brown, Edward Pinckney, Shannon Harnett, Ben McLauchlan

We were delighted to announce in November our 2020 Scholars who reflect a real diversity in background and sector interests, including Dairy Farming, Agriculture and Horticulture, Dry Stock, Sheep, Beef & Grazing and Viticulture.

Read the Scholar bios here.

What is the future?
Global insights from 2019 Scholars

After a year of travel and global learning experience, our 2019 Scholars have returned home with interesting insights and opinions.

Click on the Scholar photos below
to hear what each of our scholars have to say about the challenges facing both the global and domestic agri-food sector.

Cam Henderson Energy the next ag evolution?
Corrigan Sowman Food producers in pressure cooker
Hamish Murray Bridging the communication gap
Ben Hancock - Farm societies have common issues
Hamish Marr Attacking the noblest profession

Nuffield NZ Conference – 20 – 22 March 2020 Presenting Scholars

The Nuffield New Zealand Conference will feature 2018/19 presenting scholars and their topics followed by robust debate and discussion.  Find out more about the presenting scholars topics here.

2018 Presenting Scholars and their topics

Click on the Scholar photos below to access their reports.

Andy Elliot - Research Topic: Exporting Aotearoa - A new business model for nutrition & health focused export companies
Kate Scott - Research Topic: Enabling better environmental outcomes in agriculture
Simon Cook - Research Topic: On-Farm Biosecurity. The Importance of the Farm Gate
Solis Norton - Research Topic: Energy use in NZ’s primary food production chains & a transition to lower emissions
Turi McFarlane - Research Topic: Farm planning for a sustainable future
2019 Presenting Scholars and their topics

2019 Scholar reports are not yet available online

Cam Henderson
Food, Fibre and Fuel?Exploring opportunities to farm energy to profitably reach Net Zero Carbon

Corrigan Sowman
Understanding how pressure impacts farmer decision making

Hamish Murray
Developing and leading effective self-managing teams

Ben Hancock
Mind the Gap: bridging divergent stakeholder values

Hamish Marr
Can we farm in New Zealand without Glyphosate and other synthetic chemicals?

Nuffielders in the News

Recently the following  Nuffield Scholars, Mat Hocken, Mel Poulton and Lucy Griffiths featured in the news for their recent achievements and new appointments:

  • Matt Hocken – wins 2019 Rabobank Emerging Leader Award
  • Mel Poulton – appointed as NZ’s Special Agricultural Trade Envoy, Minister for Trade & Export Growth
  • Lucy Griffith’s – appointed to the Independent Investment Advisory Panel (IAP) for Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures).  

Find out more about their achievements below:

Nuffield2020 International Conference and Triennial

There is now just over three months until New Zealand hosts the Nuffield2020 International Conference and Triennial. Thank you for all your support in helping to promote this event. We are very excited about the programme we have put together with lots of fantastic visits, speakers and experiences for our delegates and partners. The numbers registered have already exceeded our expectations. We still  have plenty of room for more people to attend and we’d love to have as many New Zealanders join us as possible. So if you are still thinking about attending all or part of the conference there are lots of options available over the 11 day programme. View the programme here.

Nuffield International Agribusiness Summit

The Nuffield International Agribusiness Summit programme is being regularly updated with new speakers. As the Summit is open to the wider agri-sector, we hope that  you can continue to promote this fast paced one day event to your wider networks.
Check out our great line up speakers at the Summit

Michael Taylor, Chairman Nuffield2020

Registrations received so far:

NuffieldNZ Conference
Agribusiness Summit
Triennial part one
Technical tours

2020 NZ Rural Leaders Calendar of Events

International Market Study Opportunity
Expressions of Interest

NZ Apples & Pears and Massey Business School are calling for expressions of interest for the Executive International Horticultural Immersion Program (Exec IHIP) which is scheduled to run from 25th Jan to 7th Feb 2020.  The programme provides emerging leaders, executives, and growers the opportunity to follow the selected horticultural value chains into key European markets. 

The program will immerse participants in world’s best practice systems, collaboration, innovation, and consumer and market trends through Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.  The program will finish at Fruit Logistica, Berlin. 

Click here for more details about the programme or contact Erin Simpson erin@applesandpears.nz , Hamish Gow h.r.gow@massey.ac.nz and Emma Boase e.boase@massey.ac.nz for more information regarding the program.

Lucy Griffiths – Appointed to IAP for Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures

2 December 2019

Well done to Lucy Griffiths who was recently appointed by Minister Damien O’Connor to the independent Investment Advisory Panel (IAP) for Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures).

The advisory panel provides independent expert advice on both funding proposals and active programmes in NZ’s food and fibre industries. There is a $40 million fund available each year to support innovation in this sector, and the panel only advises on applications $5 million and over.  Find out more.

Find out more about Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarships


Mat Hocken – receives 2019 Rabobank Emerging Leader Award.

29th November 2019

Mat Hocken was announced as the 2019 Rabobank Emerging Leader at the Rabobank Leadership Awards on Thursday night (28th November). Our congratulations go out to Mat who is the first kiwi to receive this award!

The Rabobank Leadership Awards are held annually recognising the contribution of leaders from across New Zealand and Australia’s food and agribusiness sector. The 2019 event marked the 20th anniversary of the awards and the first occasion the awards dinner had been held in New Zealand. Find out more.

Mat Hocken – 2019 Rabobank Emerging Leader Award Recipient

Find out more about Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarships

Rural leadership – taming the wicked problems

Rural Leadership – taming the wicked problems: Growing the toolbox to foster society’s trust through strategic solutions for all
By Ben Hancock

Ben Hancock – Scholar Presentation (June 2020)

Executive Summary

Societal and regulatory issues facing the agriculture have been escalating, and unrelenting – the demands on production and cost of food, society’s perceptions of agriculture, and the regulatory burden. These complex, contrary, large and evolving issues are truly wicked problems.

Agriculture needs to be involved in the issues and to be leading development of the solutions – not reacting – in part, to maintain and build public trust. Agriculture has the expertise but needs to be in the position to be masters of their own destiny. The overarching objective of this study was to position the agriculture industry as leaders in solving wicked problems that face the industry, effectively and efficiently.

This sets the scene that requires an understanding some of the potential drivers of the perceived rift between agriculture and wider society and regulators. Understanding the gap and agriculture’s position in the context of wider society creates a starting point and identifies an avenue to explore how to put farmers at the forefront of developing solutions.

The connectivity between rural and urban communities has widened. A shift to more urbanised populations has been occurring for generations and diminished direct relationships between the two communities. The weaker connection reduces the ability of the urban population to contextualise issues facing agriculture, and for the rural communities to relate them to the urban population.

In developing a durable relationship in which both parties have regard for the other’s interest – institutionalised trust – there are three elements that provide a foundation. Agriculture has a large influence on two – economic legitimacy and interactional trust. Agriculture has less control on the third – socio-political legitimacy – yet many wicked problems develop from this area. I sought out approaches that agriculture could incorporate to gain more control in building socio-political legitimacy.

The initial approach of seeking to “get ahead” by being first to pick up on any problems was unsuited for the agriculture sector. Four methods were explored; venture capital investment strategy, web analytics and data tools, scenario testing, and expert and stakeholder panels.

Applying these practices to identifying future issues was generally still reactionary and contained a relatively high element of risk. Any returns for success would be difficult to identify and reward from success difficult to gain or quantify – the position of agriculture is not markedly improved relative to other elements of society. There are uses from the practices explored and they are suitable for other objectives, but none clearly suited the objective of getting in front of the issues.

An alternative approach was to understand the values held by other parties affected or involved with agriculture to find alignment that addresses wicked problems, and identifies potential points of conflict. In a series of meetings, I was introduced to the field of bioethics. The three bioethics tools I presented were; the ethical matrix, the ethical Delphi, and reflective equilibrium.

While there are elements of overlap with these three tools, each had variations of objective, process, outcomes and use. At a high level:

  • The ethical matrix creates an inventory for the range of views and values held by affected parties in context of the issue through deliberation;
  • The ethical Delphi is more appropriate to arrive at a reasoned consensus amongst experts in a field by directed reiterations, and
  • Reflective equilibrium, which is another reiterative process, seeks to reach a moral judgement by taking an intuitive and experienced perspective on an issue, testing it against existing knowledge of the field, putting that in the context of relevant moral principles, and then relating it back to intuition and experience – repeating the process until a stable position is achieved.

These were an introduction to the field to highlight the bioethics tools use for agriculture to understand the range of views and perspectives on issues the relate to agriculture. Research, knowledge and experience of experts are incorporated in these processes but, importantly, it is framed in a manner relevant to wider society.

Wicked problems are difficult to define, without clear solutions and often driven by other issues. Bioethics tools provide an approach to understand the potential drivers and arrive at optimal outcomes for all affected parties.

Recognising where there is alignment in values and objectives amongst groups identifies opportunities for the agricultural industry to bring society along in solving issues facing the industry. Detecting divergence in values held by affected parties identifies the potential points of conflict. Understanding the values that are behind the range of views presents an opportunity to effectively communicate and resolve perceived discord.

Detecting issues before other affected parties was identified to not be the best approach to build trust towards agriculture. If success could be gained in identifying an issue, the response is still reactionary and there is still an element of being adversarial towards other parties – not leading.

Encouraging systems-thinking in stakeholders and interest groups affected or involved in the issues facing agriculture is key to developing effective solutions and create opportunity for synergies in policies and practices.

Adoption of bioethics tools aids the agriculture industry to recognise and construct alignment with other segments of society. Nurturing an affiliation with agriculture in wider society becomes more manageable if the values underlying the spectrum of views is understood – making issues and concerns of agriculture relevant to other segments of society.

Building relationships experts in the field of bioethics will be necessary to best use these tools in addressing the wicked problems. It is an immense field of diverse tools and rural leaders would be more effective with the guidance of specialists with an in-depth knowledge of tools and processes.

Read the full report:
 Rural Leadership – taming the wicked problems: Growing the toolbox to foster society’s trust through strategic solutions for all. -Ben Hancock, 2019


Farming in a Pressure Cooker

Farming in a Pressure Cooker
By Corrigan Sowman

Corrigan Sowman – Scholar Presentation (May 2020)

Executive Summary

Across the world, pressure on our planet’s ecosystems is forcing society to “rethink” many of our everyday activities. Technology change is raising questions about where and how food can be produced, and the morality of food production.

Agriculture is at a crossroads; past practices are no longer seen as acceptable, often scrutinised by people with half the facts. The result of this situation is farmers are under pressure. They have more to respond to than there is time, money, or that current technology allows. For some, they are overwhelmed, and this is reflected in their mental wellbeing.

The purpose of this study has been to better understand how the pressure that farmers are experiencing impacts on their decisions making? These decisions underpin how the food is produced, and that is important to society, especially for countries such as New Zealand that rely on the prosperity earnt through exporting food.

This study used a four-part process called double diamond design (Banathy, 1996) to complete a broad international investigation into pressure and its effects on the farmer. The aim, to connect how farmers’ thinking is influenced by the pressure around them.

Pressure is described using five factors of uncertainty, high stakes, small margins, fast changes and judgement (Evans, 2019).

Historically farmers have managed pressure well through a multitude of management practices. This has provided them a degree of comfort despite their limited control of the biological systems they operate, systems heavily influenced by external factors such as trade. Growth through productivity has offset falling margins. But if growth is constrained through changing regulation and customer pressure, how do farmers adapt?

This study has explored the psychological factors surrounding thinking under pressure and proposed the use of a model to highlight the need for new skillsets that support accepting challenge over reaction to threat. Farmers are conditioned to recognise threat, often interlinked to their sense of purpose and identity.

How the brain responds to threat is important in understanding how best to facilitate practice change in agriculture. This report recommends a need to place the concept of pressure at the centre of future practice change in agriculture. It suggests new skills in thinking under pressure need to be fostered in farmers to underpin performance in a long-term pressure environment. It draws on the science of thinking under pressure and examples already available in New Zealand to highlight that branding food around origin in the future will rely on investing in the thinking skills of those producing it.

 Read the full report here:

 Farming in a Pressure Cooker: How pressure impacts farmer decision making.
 – Corrigan Sowman, 2019