SciBlogs

Archive June 2011

Agricultural commodity boom no good for branding Peter Kerr Jun 21

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There is one downside from New Zealand agriculture and our economic future from the recent (and its appears ongoing) surge in primary products prices.

It is delay, perhaps irretrievably, of consumer-centric changes required in the way we market, as opposed to flog off at the highest price, our meat, wool, dairy and wood products.

The commodity boom’s bad for branding is another way of saying it.

During these times of high prices, there’s not the same incentive or passion or need to extract more value from what we produce.

Everyone in the current supply chain; and let’s not kid ourselves that we have a value chain; can rest easy.
Everyone can clip just a bit more of the ticket, and tweak up their margins. After all, such are the prices being paid by bulk buyers, no one really have to think too much about the end consumer.

Such are the current, perceived, commodity premiums, while New Zealand produce might receive a small country-based price advantage, no exporter really has to, or will feel like chasing the high end customer.

For dairying, the country’s biggest miner, it will mean continuing down the path of bulk milk powder.

For sheep and beef, it will take away the pressure to enact some of the good ideas and suggestions of the Red Meat Strategy, recently delivered by a partnered up Meat Industry Association and Beef + Lamb NZ.

For wool, it takes much needed heat out of the Wool Industry Research Ltd.’s $17m co-funded project to look into new ideas and uses for the ancient fibre.

For forestry, well, we’ll just keep on pumping out those logs and exporting them.

All the models of extracting greater value from the market are predicated on getting closer to the consumer – preferably with branded products.

The commodity boom ain’t going to help that notion.

Which is a pity.

Because the one glaring flaw in New Zealand’s agricultural history, is we don’t own our story.

We don’t have a name for the production method, which is essentially sustainable pastoralism, which over 100 years we’ve perfected.

What we could have is a type of ‘Intel Inside’ attribute on every piece of product sold from our country.
We’re the only protein production method that can say, VISIT, but without a brand, we can’t say that.

But the commodity boom means we’ll be treated like every other agricultural commodity.

We’ll continue with no differentiation, no means to pointing out to affluent people who care, that what they’re eating or wearing has a specialness based on where it comes from and how it is produced.

While not bemoaning the income fillip for farmers and the wider economy, perversely the commodity boom will do us no good in the long run.


Microwaved charcoal technology gets thumbs up from British science writer Peter Kerr Jun 07

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There’s nothing quite as pleasing as someone else mentioning you in their book – so Blenheim-based CarbonScape must have a grin from ear to ear at the moment.

It, and its patented microwave technology that can continuously produce activated carbon from wood and other waste, is the only New Zealand enterprise featured in British futurologist, Mark Stevenson’s book.

Stevenson, a writer, stand-up comedian, cultural education consultant, as well as a musician and expert in prime number cryptography (what can’t he do!), traveled the world in search of new technologies that could transform the way our world looks.

The result is, ‘An Optimist’s Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets Out to Answer “What’s Next?”‘

CarbonScape’s process produces AC, which in its own right has a diverse range of uses including cleaning contaminated soil and water, and capturing significant quantities of carbon dioxide emissions from power stations. Burying this charcoal is an effective form of carbon sequestration. (See other sticK stories hereand here).

AC is used in metallurgy, chemistry, agriculture, gold extraction, nuclear energy, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, medicine and food processing.

By tweaking the microwave, valuable oil and gas by-products can also be extracted from the woody wastes, and even though AC can be extremely valuable in its own right, the capture and utilisation of the other ‘bits’ is even more promising.

CarbonScape is currently scaling up its testing, and a pilot site has begun batch scale production in Marlborough. The company is looking for the right partners to take the technology to the world.
The company is in exalted company in Stevenson’s book.

It is featured alongside Nobel prize-winners, presidents and the leading scientists of the day at Harvard, MIT and Cornell Universities. Along the way, Stevenson talked to experts in fields such as genetics, robotics and nanotechnology.

Apparently the Wall Street Journal has described the book as being ‘sharp and fascinating’, while the New Statesman says ‘it’s the best science book I’ve read for a long time.”

All CarbonScape will be hoping is that Stevenson’s interest translates into worldwide investor awareness as it cranks up the microwave method’s commercial cred. It is a promising technology, that, as Stevenson has identified, could be great for the planet.


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