SciBlogs

Archive October 2012

The way you’d farm if you farmed yourself Peter Kerr Oct 30

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This story is also posted at www.pastureharmonies.org

Think for a moment that you’re a Western consumer contemplating buying some animal protein for dinner that night.

Faced with an array of red and white meat choices, you have a tiny thought in the back of your mind about how the animal that produced that steak or mince or breast grew up.

(Ignoring anthropomorphism) mostly, you’re going to be aware that its life was pretty confined and squashed, and bears very little resemblance to how it would’ve existed in a ‘natural’ world.

However, you’ve got to eat, and pretty much you have Hobson’s choice when it comes to the production source of the meat.

Further imagine there’s meat product that has a pH and/or a pasture Harmonies co-brand sitting alongside a marketer’s brand, a sign of responsible pastoralism.

You know the pH story.

That’s the one where a farmer works in with the seasonality of grass/clover/herb growth.

That’s the one where animals are outside, relatively free to wander, relatively free to express their natural behaviours.

That’s the one where a sustainable use of land is the goal – and where science has helped contribute to and verify that the planet’s not being harmed in the product’s creation.

That’s the one where there is an explicit invitation to VISIT – this production method has nothing to hide.

And, even though the steak or mince from the pH co-branded product costs more than its fellow chiller-mates, you appreciate there’s something more heartfelt, something more uplifting about buying it compared to the others.

All in all, the pH product ticks all the right ethical, moral and emotional boxes (let’s call it a heart) – allowing the head to follow.

In fact, such a consumer is standing there thinking, ‘if I was a farmer, that’s the way I’d want to farm’.

That, I argue, is what we ‘risk’ by owning our story.

We risk connecting with a consumer in a way that nobody else has.

We risk laying claim to a market position that others, simply, understand.

We risk putting ourselves in the position of global leaders in responsible pastoralism and providing ourselves and our children’s children with a sustainable business model beyond commodity.

All that, I argue, through owning our story…..and we’d own our story by naming it.

Is it a risk worth taking?


Let’s accept now that the ATI will find it very difficult to kick off by February next year Peter Kerr Oct 25

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By the look of things, maybe we should accept, now, that the Advanced Technology Institute won’t be up and running by 1 Feb 2012.

This was a two-month postponement from the original 1 November 2012 date – but the way things appear to be slowly happening, pushing out the date again would be a sensible outcome on a complex issue that the ATI’s establishment board and the overall project are attempting to solve.

It reflects some or all of the challenges of setting up a body with the original purpose to boost NZ’s high value manufacturing, with food and forestry also thrown in for good measure.

One point to note is, compared to the extensive consultation and discussion that preceded the reformation of the then DSIR and MAFTech into the Crown Research Institutes 20 years ago, the ATI Establishment Board and Establishment Unit (the fulltime ‘doers’) are virtually operating in stealth mode.

There are a number of issues the ATI EB and EU are grappling with.

  • What business model should it put in place, what should its role be?
  • How should it collaborate with existing capability sets – R&D, commercialisation, consultancy? (This point was one made by a number of submissions to the recent select committee considering legislation to establish the ATI, see here) (which in itself leads to the next point)
  • How does it avoid cannibalising existing relationships in the science and innovation sector?
  • How does it define what success looks like?
  • (A few of these questions were generically posed in the ATI EB’s terms of reference – see here – which again goes to show it is easier to state a challenge than propose an answer)

The Sue Suckling chaired ATI establishment board has these and many other challenges to address – and, with all due respect to the people in the ATI establishment unit, it could be considered slightly underdone on that side of things.

A major issue there is that none of the people in this establishment unit have experience at running their own businesses, or having their own money on the line in a business venture.

When talking to captains of industry, business owners and science and commercialisation practitioners, this represents a severe credibility gap.

This is even more so when you consider that the big boys of NZ industry, think Fonterra, Fisher & Paykel, Norske, already know where the science and R&D expertise exists for their industries, and/or already have it in-house.

What role should the ATI have for these sorts of people?

Of course, the ATI could act as a gateway for the small medium enterprise business owners looking to ratchet up a degree or two – but what role should it have in that case? It could be a kind of one-stop-shop, act as a type of research translator, reform possible individual research projects into wider project. But again, the cannibalisation issue.

There’s a political risk too, that in order to be seen to be successful, the ATI does set itself up in in competition to existing CRI’s, research associations and universities.

This wouldn’t help NZ business development in any form whatsoever, but might briefly make the ATI look good; have its place in the sun, but with no gain for the country.

Apparently too the wheels have been put in motion to search for an ATI chief executive. You’d have to be nervous putting your name forward for the role well before it has any definition of what it is meant to do!

Again, we come back to what is the ATI’s business model meant to be?

Which is perhaps why (yet another) NZ delegation made up of some establishment board and unit members is going to tootle off to Denmark, and have another look at the Danish Technology Institute.

This is in spite of the many reports and talks and discussions which have taken place with and about the DTI. It should be noted too that the DTI itself realises it needs to change from what was more of a consultancy model, into one that carries out fundamental and applied R&D.

All in all, the suspicion is that the ATI ‘birth’ may’ve been better brought to life by evolving the IRL proposal – which kicked off much of the improving innovation/commercialisation debate in the first place.

Which, of course, is all too late now.

But, given that it is a complex issue, with Christmas and summer holidays just around the corner, let’s remove February 1, 2013 from our minds as the date the ATI will kick into life.

After all, we’re talking about spending $166 million over four years on improving innovation.

Better late and logical, than sooner and suspect


For want of a name our agriculture flounders Peter Kerr Oct 23

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Every story has a name – except the one which describes our agriculture.

This, I argue, is one of the reasons we struggle to tell people around the world and in our cities about what exactly is and has been the basis of our farming’s comparative advantage for the past 130 years.

Let me provide an example.

We don’t start a story with: ‘This is about a wolf and a little girl and a grandmother who lives alone.”

No, we start, “This is the story of Little Red Riding Hood.”

From that basis the rest of the story can unfold. In a sense it doesn’t matter if some of the order, the details and nuances get a bit mixed up. Everything can hover under the banner of the name of the story.

At the same time, though there may be many variations on the story (does the wolf eat the grandmother, or does he lock her in a cupboard), it is still the story of Little Red Riding Hood. It is a story of good versus bad, and a girl with a red jacket that has an inbuilt hood.

Moving into the real world, we see countries that have earned a name for something they do extremely well.

Thus, no one has an argument about the idea of German engineering excellence, or Italian design flair or a Japanese minimalist Zen aesthetic.

Even though these are a generic name, built on the products and services which reinforce the truism of the name; they reinforce the story. The story is one of clever people, applied thinking, a certain style. It is part and parcel of those particular countries’ ethos.

However, we, NZ Inc, haven’t even managed such a generic name. The New Zealand method, or grass fed, or (the meaningless) natural don’t describe, don’t resonate, don’t provide consumers with a compelling shorthand that allows them to think “ah, I know what this is, where it comes from, what it represents”.

Instead, our wonderful products, the result of applied science to sunshine, soil and fresh air, are lumped with all the other commodity meats and fibres.

And all this because we have never given what we do a name or brand (which is merely shortand for the story).

This is why I argue that the moment we name our method is the instant we totally reposition ourselves in the minds of consumers, and give ourselves a strategic platform to upsell everything from animal genetics to electric fences (as well as the method itself) to other farmers around the world.

From that point on, we allow ourselves to play a completely different game.

But maybe I’m talking through the proverbial hole in my head. Or am I?


Foolproof market validation tool for those of us who would be fools Peter Kerr Oct 18

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Market validation works says Jenny Douché

‘Foolproof’ (great title) has been inspired by much of a working life immersed in entrepreneurial startups.

Its author, Jenny Douché likes to think of the 188 page book as a resource for anyone looking to create or grow a business.

At its core, Foolproof is about an all too often neglected or overlooked component of starting up – market validation.

That is especially, proving there IS a market before too much, or anything, has been spent on producing a product, developing a marketing plan or anything of the busy business things that all require doing in a new commercial proposition.

And while the Wellingtonian mother of two young children expresses ‘introversion’ as her particular personality profile, the May publication of Foolproof following eight months of research and writing has provided a couple of intangible (aside from recouping self-publication costs) benefits.

  • Provides credibility in the market validation area
  • Consolidated Douché’s own thoughts and learning on market validation

From that point of view, Douché says the book is less about building a professional profile as providing a resource for the business community – one that isn’t readily available in such a non-academic form, one that has a New Zealand-centricness.

“Most of what I read about market validation had a very narrow view on what it actually encompassed, that is it just tended to look at how the market would react to a particular offer,” she says. “Things like, what features people want, how much they’re prepared to pay. I saw very little that had a focus on potential customers’ current behaviours and on the barriers to changing those behaviours.”

Douché says nothing in business or in life ever happens in isolation, and when validating the opportunity for a new offering one needs to understand the wider context. That is, what other activities does the customer do, what other products and services do they use and how do they come cross them? It all impacts on their likelihood of using your proposed offering.

Some of the potential barriers to a business customer changing their behaviours may be uncovered by asking questions such as:

  • Who in the organisation is the decision-maker?
  • How much will making a change affect other systems within the business?
  • What contracts might an organisation have to get out of?
  • What training might be required (for the new product or service)?
  • What data may have to be transported across?

Foolproof addresses current behaviours, barriers to change and finally critical success factors – “seen through my lens and interpretation of market validation,” she says.

Part of the book’s motivation also came from Douché’s time as the ‘Activate’ manager for Grow Wellington/Creative HQ. Activate’s common theme is market validation – “but it is really hard to get some businesses to do this side of things,” she says.

“But, those who did, do, most have changed their business models, some substantially. The process pointed out opportunities that were available, some people stopped their business.”

The going repetition of the need for market validation, and constantly telling and saying the same message, indicated to Douché that Foolproof’s time had come.

Douché’s aimed the book at SME’s, tried to keep it general, tried to make it all inclusive.

“When writing the book I tried to ensure that it would be applicable to all kinds of business, whether product-based, virtual or service-based. Given this there will be bits that don’t apply to all businesses, but everybody should get something valuable out of it.”

Foolproof isn’t available in bookstores, but can be purchased direct (from here) for $29.95 in hard copy or $7 as an e-book.


If we imagine beyond the actuality of how we produce…. Peter Kerr Oct 16

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This post also appears at www.pastureharmonies.org

Science has served New Zealand agriculture extremely well. It should and needs to do so in the future.

It is also that pragmatic rationale approach that has delivered and developed a wonderfully integrated on-farm representation of responsible pastoralism.

Put another way, we’ve engineered a farming solution that makes best use of the temperate climate and relatively thin, bony, young soils of New Zealand.

We are one of the few countries in the world where farmers aren’t peasants.

We tend to take it so much for granted, that what we have, what we project from (most of) our farming, is ‘normal’. In doing so we forget what it looks like.

Now, while some tourists and travellers may complain our countryside looks like a giant golfcourse, in a way it is a bit of a backhand compliment.

Our farms, from Northland to Southland, from the coast to the foothills and high country, look looked after. They look as if someone intelligent is at home and the land, environment and animals are being cared for.

It looks almost bucolic. One of (many) definitions of bucolic is – of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life – which while a large stretch of the actuality, is a pretty good image or association to have.

The fact, supported by billions of dollars of spending over the past 120 years, we have science to utterly back up the picture.

However, this is a synergy we’ve, (I’m arguing) never exploited.

But first and foremost though, we need to control the imagery of what and how our farms and farming looks in the big picture.

pasture Harmonies can truly represent the idea and the ideal of responsible pastoralism.

By inviting consumers to visit, we can also take part in a conversation.

For example, consumers will (probably) always want a standard that in practice is impossible and/or uneconomic to achieve.

If, when we stake our claim to the rotational grazing territory we initially discovered, then we can take part in a conversation, instead of always defensively reacting .

One of our current challenges, is agriculture attempts to defend an amorphous idea.

When we give that idea a name, we are in a much better, stronger position.

Our farming is about much more than the sum of all its parts.

We are picture (almost) perfect.

Let’s start believing, living up to and improving that picture. To which end, let’s name it, and with it the science behind the image.

(Or, is our image something we should just let look after itself, and by default decay?)


Getting to a BLISful state a long and winding road Peter Kerr Oct 11

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Dunedin-based BLIS’s oral cavity probiotic products have “spent a long time on the runway”, as it chief executive Dr Barry Richardson described the other day.

(Briefly wearing a journalist hat, I interviewed Richardson for BusinessDesk). There’s a certain irony in the eleven year old stockmarket listed company’s current position – with its share price less than a cent.

The quirk of fate is that with 50 worldwide patents on its ‘good’ bacteria, Streptococcus salivarius, which crowds out baddies that can cause bad breath and tooth decay, BLIS is potentially on the cusp of a huge ramp up in demand from other manufacturers of products.

Part of BLIS’s strategy is to allow other manufacturers of lozenges and ice cream (among numerous products) to use their probiotics and validated health claims in their own products.

Undoubtedly shareholders have long tired of hearing that nirvana is just around the corner, but with recent United States FDA approval of safety and efficacy beyond its (to date) dietary supplement certification, BLIS’s runway looks truly set for takeoff.

Added to that is the fact that around the world other independent science teams have been further proving BLIS’s claims of its probiotics marketed as K12 and M18 do work.

All that would be fantastic for Dunedin – as the freeze-dried probiotic ingredients are all manufactured in New Zealand, and any addition to its commercial base can only be good for the city and its university.

However, this is a roundabout way of showing and saying that:

  • There’s a heck of a challenge in converting a good idea to a blazing commercial success – it takes time (and then some) and money
  • A stockmarket listing as a capital-raising exercise for a fledgling biotech company will often be an exercise in frustration and ongoing requirement to disclose, disclose, disclose
  • And lastly, and hopefully something that doesn’t come to fruition – BLIS could be ripe for takeover by a savvy investor aware of the potential it has now created

Particularly with regard to the latter possibility, a stripping out of the IP and production from BLIS would be another sad state of affairs for NZ Inc biotech.

Our country’s greatest potential increase in national wealth is adding wealth to our biological resources and raw materials – that is, doing clever things to and with biological bits (+ bytes if we can combine it with the digital side of things).

But to achieve this, we need to maintain and grow the supporting infrastructure, including the expertise and processing that BLIS has onboard.

Then, not only can BLIS people grow its own portfolio of products (and there’s more in the pipeline apparently), but some of these clever people might head off to set up other ventures. Equally, outsiders can tap into the BLIS skills in the kiwi ‘can you give me a hand’ manner.

So….hang in there BLIS. After more than a decade of trying to get your probiotic plane off the ground you might at last be ready for takeoff.

When that happens, it’ll be good for all of us.


Standing for nothing does our agriculture a big non-favour Peter Kerr Oct 09

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This story also appears at www.pastureharmonies.org

If you stand for nothing; does that mean anything is acceptable….or not?

This is the dilemma for NZ Inc agriculture as AgResearch announces the recent success of ‘Daisy’ a cow genetically modified to produce milk with much less beta-lactoglobulin (BLG). This is a milk whey protein known to be allergenic to some people. See the NZ Herald version of the story here.

I’m not commenting on the clever science behind GM Daisy – essentially using two microRNAs and RNA interference to knock down the expression of BLG. AgResearch next want to normally breed from Daisy and see if the same non-BLG milk is produced by her daughters – a several year exercise.

At its core, Daisy is a world first, and it really is (in my opinion) excellent applied science in creating her.

What’s of greater issue; especially given the pro/anti GM stirrings that resulted from AgResearch’s announcement, is the lack of ability ‘we’, as NZ Inc agriculture, have to figure out where Daisy and her ilk could or should fit in our offer to the world.

This is because we don’t own our story.

We don’t own our story because we’ve never named it – that is, we’ve never given a title to the rotational grazing technologies and grazing in situ we perfected over the past 100 years.

It means that we have no strategic big picture notion of what we ‘offer’ the world.

In ‘standing for nothing’ we do ourselves a huge disservice.

Is it no wonder that young people, the very lifeblood for agriculture’s next generation, are turned off. It is such a shapeless industry, who can blame them for avoiding education in it in droves.

It is no wonder that urban NZ only sees and hears grizzling cockies, polluting producers and sellers flogging commodities.

It is no wonder that tourists to New Zealand (or the vast majority of Kiwis for that matter) never appreciate the complex science behind what they see out their bus window.

Which may seem a long way from a debate about a genetically modified cow on an experimental farm?

But it is the other side of our unnamed story.

NZ Inc has the opportunity to name/brand our country’s core comparative advantage – and in doing so become the global custodians of responsible pastoralism.

The moment we do, is when we’d provide ourselves with the ability to debate Daisy, determine if such genetically tweaked beasts can fit into what we proffer to the world.

Non-BLG milk could indeed be part of a suite of ‘clever’ biologically-derived products that we produce.

But, getting back to the opening sentence – by standing for nothing, we can only have a nothing sort of debate.


New media + books = Literary Angels: friend recommendations set to fly Peter Kerr Oct 04

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Lisa Buchan and Mike Peters are hoping to tap into friend recommendation as a way of promoting and selling digital and real books

Literary Angels, a Facebook (with other social media to come) book socialising, tracking and selling tool, could be exactly what the publishing industry has been looking for.

LA sets up a unique identity for a hard copy or e-book, allowing readers to recommend, and give away a single copy. It also allows an author and/or publisher to see how much engagement fans and potential fans have, and whether indeed a purchase has been made.

The Angel’s co-founder Lisa Buchan and her business partner Mike Peters, have been involved in authorship over the past couple of years through their rights trading platform, Sparkabook.com.

They were aware that the book industry itself is on the cusp of experiencing similar internet/digital revolutions that has turned other industries such as media and (some) manufacturing upsidedown.

“For book publishers, the big difference is that where they used to completely rely on retailers and distribution, is completely turned on its head with e-books,” Buchan says.

“Publishers are well-aware they need to communicate directly with readers and do their own sales, marketing and promotion to find an audience. The question has been how; and we think we’re the answer.”

Unlike other consumer brands, who have both a budget and can target certain segments of people, book publishers are different.

Consumers don’t buy brands, they buy authors, which is where the value lies. And all books have a different target. With fewer bookshops (and the enthusiastic salespeople within), the whole previous ecosystem is being stripped away. E-books mean publishers are losing the ability to target a book at the right audience.

Which are among the reasons publishers have been very very interested in the www.vangelizer.com offer through Literary Angels.

“They’re at this point in time where they’re grappling with what they’ll do,” she says. “They know they have to do something, but they can’t figure out what, or how to communicate and get in touch with fans. What we’re saying is here is a social media tool to help.”

So far they’ve talked to New Zealand, Australian and a few USA and UK publishers. One Brit immediately demanded the Literary Angel Q.R. code (and Facebook recommendation and tracking) his a reprint of his ‘Harry Potter on Location’ guide.

Publishers will be expected to pay to use LA, be they big or self-publishing. Such self-promoters will have the ability to get their books into the hands of those who would most enjoy it.

The four month old venture is getting better and better as it learns about the book reading and recommending ecosystem, with such learnings being incorporated in succeeding generations of the software.

The Twitter, Linkedin and Good Reads social networks will be added to the LA landscape over the next few months.

Buchan has already been to a couple of Frankfurt book fair’s, and, knowing her way around the show and the publishing industry’s infrastructure, is looking forward to spruiking the book socialising Angel’s abilities to the same in early October.

“We’re trying to edge publishers to the territory where the person to person communication happens, and where they can continue to make money through being part of the process,” she says.

And just as the Literary Angels’ ‘job’ is to go forth and promote a book, this is exactly what Buchan and Peters will be doing for their social media oriented tool in a month’s time.

As a kind of MusicHype for books, as a way of enabling publishers to stay in business, Literary Angels may be the type of guardian they’re looking for. Keep reading.


Should we bother trying to get consumers closer to farmers? Peter Kerr Oct 03

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This post can also be seen at www.pastureharmonies.org

It is often said that farmers need to get closer to consumers.

And while it is possible, and some marketers have set up the facility to, for a bar code (or QR code) to show exactly where a piece of meat came from, even though that’s good it’s not really the point.

Sure, often the marketer will be telling a story associated with the meat’s provenance.

However, my argument is that within the huge quantity of meat sold around the world, the brave battle of such tiny efforts is worthy but not enough.

The reason that farmers want to get closer to consumers is because then you’re NOT commodity. It means you ARE differentiated.

This is an argument that if we give ourselves a helicopter view of what we produce, and much more importantly how we produce, then we automatically link consumers with our farmers (and we should start at the consumer – the fact we can produce something doesn’t mean a thing).

By naming that method (pasture Harmonies), which after all can only be carried out on-farm, we change the mental relationship of the consumer to what they’re going to eat (or wear or put on their floors).

Imagine then, a pasture Harmonies co-brand quietly sitting alongside a marketer’s brand.

Immediately (because we’d be telling the pH story in many different ways) a consumer would have the ultimate validation of it being the way they’d farm if they farmed themselves.

A consumer could, easily, imagine themselves to be that farmer.

At the moment, that’s much too much a bridge too far. A consumer can’t be sure how ‘our’ produce is made. There’s nothing like an ‘Intel Inside’ guarantee. (They can’t with other protein production methods either, but one thing we would be trying to show/prove is that we’re not feedlot, not ‘industrial’).

And finally, want to know the best thing about naming our story, and enabling consumers to get closer to farmers?

We don’t have to make anything up. It’s all true. What we’d be doing is owning responsible pastoralism and providing a means for that consumer to feel good about their choice.

We’d be linking consumers’ hearts with farmers’.

Or would we?


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