We all own our agricultural story…..that’s the problem

By Peter Kerr 20/11/2012 10

This post also runs at pasture Harmonies.

The trouble is; we all own New Zealand’s agricultural story.

That is, the huge collective effort that went into figuring out, developing and improving the soil, pasture and plant/animal interaction that is our pastoral method: is part of our collective birthright.

Unfortunately, NZ Inc has never (and as such never could) apply for a worldwide patent for the knowledge. There’s none of it that’s uniquely identifiable. If, perhaps way back in the 1930s when some of the eminent scientists of the day were working up their theories of how to grow grass/clover better, there may have been some form of IP we could’ve called ‘ours’.

That horse has well and truly bolted these days – indeed, there’s mid-Western American universities who would attempt to claim the mantle.

However, no one has ever claimed the STORY.

No one has ever said, ‘well, we work with rather than against nature, seasonally’. If you want a comparison, it is much like the way the Seregenti ‘works’; with animals grazing then moving on to new, fresh pastures in a circular pattern that is probably as old as the time we’ve been walking upright.

To mix metaphors, this method of growing, grazing, resting pasture is a globally unstaked claim.

By that token, we, NZ Inc can and should nab it. What we’d be laying claim to is responsible pastoralism – and for want of a title/name/brand, I’m proposing we call it pasture Harmonies (otherwise we’d spend all our time debating what to call it).

I’m sure there would be a bit of a furore if we did – but so? (The only bad publicity is no publicity).

From a big-picture point of view for NZ Inc, and particularly the companies and farmers with a financial vested interest in agriculture, naming our story would provide the missing glue, the rationale to allow us to work together when it best suits.

Because one of our main challenges, identified in a host of reports over the past 30 years, is there is no NZ Inc strategic vision.

That’s because there is nothing (yet) to consolidate around.

But the moment we named our agriculture’s comparative advantage, and allowed those who wished to participate (including partnering overseas farmers and companies) to use pH as a co-brand, co-story, is the instant we’d give ourselves a non-commodity future.

The moment we said, ‘this is ours’, and named the method, is when we’d change our offer to the world.

We’d also make more money.

Or, is making money something we shouldn’t aspire to?

10 Responses to “We all own our agricultural story…..that’s the problem”

  • Yes, agreed, we can always find examples of bad practice. Should that be a reason not to explore naming what is our only real comparative advantage?

    Would not, publicly and globally owning that ‘space’ really encourage us to get the whole house in order?

    Or, are we better, in an ever-downward spiralling commodity price driven means, even more thrash our environment?

  • I’d be wary of using the “with nature” narrative – a more honest and pragmatic way to go could be using the “sustainable” label.

    That’s what we want to achieve anyway and doesn’t limit us to any one person (or group or nationality)’s idea of “natural”.

  • Well, another point here, Peter (which I’ve made previously on another of your posts) is that responsible agriculture isn’t all about happy little cows wandering around (on a circular path?) in the paddocks, however appealing that image may be to consumers. Responsible practices include the use of feedlots & deep-litter barns, which don’t seem to be included in your vision at all. I’m at a loss to understand how a misleading ‘brand’ can have any impact on what we actually do.

  • ‘Yes, agreed, we can always find examples of bad practice.’

    What example of bad practice? Your response reads as dismissing my example out-of-hand to me. I didn’t offer an example of ‘bad practice’. I offered an example of how if the reality and the marketing aren’t in line it can backlash.

    What you offer is not the reality of farming. Differences between the marketing spiel and reality can backlash, as I’ve tried several times to say on your blog. Above I gave an example, one that has happened in a similar situation to what you are trying to set up in the (seemingly vain) hope you might ‘get’ the point better through example.

    ‘Should that be a reason not to explore naming what is our only real comparative advantage?’

    Let me try understand this. You are saying ‘our only real comparative advantage’ is others’ perception that are farming is like ‘X’ and that we should emphasise and re-affirm their perception. Note that’s regardless of if it reflects reality.

    ‘Would not, publicly and globally owning that ‘space’ really encourage us to get the whole house in order?’

    Come on Peter. I pointed out if the marketing and the reality are inconsistent that can backlash. Isn’t it commonsense that it’d be silly to then set up what can backlash first? (Better if you want to sell yourself as being one way, to first actually be that way.)

    ‘Or, are we better, in an ever-downward spiralling commodity price driven means, even more thrash our environment?’

    Not something I suggested, nor does it follow from what I presented.

  • Two questions then Grant.

    1. When done properly, (i.e. responsibly/sustainably), can the reality of our farming’s pasture method match a marketing spiel?

    2. Should we attempt to claim a tiny portion of the retail consumer market by naming our agriculture story?

  • There may be a wee difficulty Peter in that I heard from a reliable source the other day that 47% of NZ’s dairy farmers are now using Systems 4 and 5, which means that a hefty proportion of what their cows eat is bought in feed. Sort of kills off the total pasture idea.

  • The problem here seems to be that the marketing spiel (happy cows in green pastures) doesn’t approximate what would really be more sustainable practices (nor, in many cases, does current reality). By all means name our ‘agriculture story’, but let’s make that an accurate story rather than a rose-tinted view of a possibly non-existent past.

  • Peter,

    1. You’re walking around what I wrote rather than answer it. (Sorry, but you are avoiding the question.)

    2. My reading of this is you mean: ‘as a PR person I like to see marketing’. This is neither here nor there with respect to what I wrote.

    I suggest you re-read my comment, esp. the paragraph starting ‘Let me try understand this’, and think where that leads.

    Marketing cares about perceptions, often over reality. In marketing an item, if a backlash occurs it’ll affect that product’s sales and perhaps the company as a whole. It happens, there’s not avoiding that. As it happens it ought to be factored in as a risk element. One issue is consumers dislike being mislead. Consumers also take moral stances. And so on.

    Market a country and the backlash can affect every activity in the country conceptually associated with the marketing line in consumers minds. Bigger risk – more care should be taken.

    Anyone marketing a product knows the risk of misrepresenting. I run a consultancy. I’m not about to misrepresent what I offer. Couldn’t even ask me to try. Yes, some companies, including bioinformatics/science companies, market by offering services that in fact they can’t at that point in time offer, aiming to hire and fill in their skill mix if the contract is successful. (I don’t and in any event couldn’t.)

    But you can‘t do the equivalent with an entire industry or country. You can’t market what you would like and then hope to bring it up to that.

    They have to be what you claim them to be at the time. It’d be a sham front that’d never hold up and consumers are damn good at smacking sham fronts down if they feel wronged.

    Call me risk-adverse if you like, but this sounds a dodgy idea for a country to take on, at least in my reading of what you’re suggesting.

    One dodge would be market that a nation ‘encourages’, say, sustainable practice in it’s farmers; but if you’re going to try that, that encouragement had better be real, too.

  • Apologies for not replying sooner to your most pertinent questions and observations Grant and Alison (and other) – only now have I had a chance to come up for air.

    Hopefully some clarification around my idea that NZ Inc should name our pastoral method.

    Firstly, I’m NOT advocating that we should carry this out on a carte blanche national basis.

    I am suggesting that:

    1. Our pastoral method, done correctly, is sustainable at a soil, water, animal and community level

    2. At an individual farmer level, signing up to a simple (one page) philosophy and outcome-oriented methodology, such a proposition can be taken through to the market.

    3. The ultimate validation/verification of such a promise is VISIT.

    4. There is a market premium for products from such a system by people who care enough, who can afford to care (obviously this needs to be tested).

    5. On this basis, being global custodians of responsible pastoralism is a position well worth NZ Inc considering.

    6. ‘We’ would own such a story by naming it.

    I’m not suggesting the type of green wash provided by the 100% Pure fib.

    I am suggesting, starting from the ground up (pun mostly intended), and by providing the means for a farmer-consumer relationship, we would give ourselves with a non-commodity basis on which to strategically provide a new offer to the world.

    I do not suggest a PR lie, but proud ownership of a real story.

    By the same token, some farmers would not, or could not be part of it – but ultimately that’s where the story has to start.

    Thanks for your observations and questions, and again apologies for not replying sooner.

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