Posts Tagged responsible pastoralism

When we name something, our relationship with it changes Peter Kerr Feb 07

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(This blog also appears at

Michael Margolis, chief instigator at Get Storied in a Brand Storytelling 101 blog makes the following point.

1. When we name something, our relationship with it transforms

His first example has an agricultural flavour.

“If a cow is given a name by her owner, she generates more milk than a cow that’s treated as an anonymous member of the herd,” according to a research study by Newcastle University.

Margolis goes on:

Names provide us with purpose and direction, often revealing the inner purpose and destiny we are expected to fill. Those names impart an energetic connection that shapes us. When you name the people, creatures and places around you, your connection with the universe is strengthened, all through the stories you tell.

Brands operate in a similar way. A brand represents the complex emotional relationship between the storyteller – the one who is sharing something about that brand – and the audience. Put in a more traditional context, a brand represents the emotional relationship between a consumer and a product.

For all the above reasons, this is why NZ Inc should brand our method of responsible pastoralism.

We can capture the hearts and minds (and wallets) of consumers who care, by connecting with their emotions.

We can get off the commodity treadmill differentiating ourselves from much less pleasant and picturesque means of producing protein.

We can reinvent ourselves….but only if we give ourselves permission to think differently about what it is we offer the world. (Clue, it is vastly more than a piece of meat or a dairy ingredient in someone else’s product).

No one has laid claim to the pasture-based system of working in harmony with nature.

We can – and to reiterate Margolis’ words:

When we name something, our relationship with it transforms.

We are the picture that a child draws of a farm Peter Kerr Dec 18


A child draws a picture of a farm.

The sun is shining, the water is clean, the animals are happy.

A question could be, ‘What is the name of that picture?’

Our farms, done correctly, are that picture. There’s a heck of a lot of science to validate it as well.

But, like the picture, we’ve never given a name to what and how we do things.

Without a name, we’re undifferentiated from factory farming.

However, the moment we give our responsible pastoralism method a name, then we provide ourselves with a frame for the offer we make to the world.

It is a frame of reference, of expectation, of delivery, of allowing a consumer to connect heart and head for the piece of meat they may be thinking of buying.

It also provides a frame on which to do much more applied science – get the special bits, add lots of margin, create more value from the raw materials, reinvent products.

(This also applies to our forestry, fishing and other biological resources – our strengths, upon which we can build, make much more money).

Because what we want to do is have a relationship with consumers – they too ‘own’ our pasture Harmonies method. By naming it, we can have a conversation, with them, with other world farmers, with the supply chain, with the rest of New Zealand.

And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to positively yarn, rather than always having to be reactive.

Imagine too the competition and labelling opportunities from having children paint pictures and/or come to somewhere/something that is already named!

It all would happen by naming our story, taking control of our destiny.

Or would that be just too simple?

If we knew what we were inventing when we figured it out…..we would’ve named it Peter Kerr Dec 11

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The concept of rotational grazing has been around for so long now (but only about 60 years really) that we take it for granted.

It is ‘just’ the way we do things at the on farm level, and there’s no question that this is the best way to manage the ryegrass/clover mix that makes up a majority of our pastures.

However, the ‘just’ hides a hell of a lot of applied science, and incremental increases in knowledge that resulted in a graze, rest, graze, rest….. method of management, and as importantly, tying it all in in a systemised approach.

(As an aside, this is how wild animals/nature manages the Serengeti Plains. Lush new grazing is inundated with animals, which move onto new grazing as it grows, allowing the old growth time to replenish).

Rotational grazing, as opposed to set-stocking, was a big breakthrough.

So, imagine if back in the 1950s, as our extremely talented (and nationally known) agricultural scientists were getting their heads around the ‘graze, rest’ style of pasture management, they realised what it was going to mean.

Do you think for a moment they would’ve hesitated to give it a name if they’d realised the multi-dimensional beast they were creating?

If, landing from another planet they’d descended straight into the technology, they would’ve been sure to have done so.

But, much as a frog placed in a pot of water with an ever increasing temperature doesn’t jump out, being so tied up in tweaking and re-tweaking the pastoral system, nobody thought to give it a handle.

There was a time when our grazing (including extensive use of greater paddock subdivision) was known as the McMeeken Method. Those in farming knew exactly what this meant.

With time, this moniker faded away.

However, it still doesn’t get around the fact that, especially and most importantly, there is no descriptor from a CONSUMER point of view. As the people who ultimately pay our agriculture’s way, they are who we need to engage with.

The story of how a lamb chop or steak (or even mince) is nurtured into life is a fantastic one (and for many people, especially those with discretionary income, several cuts above a feedlot yarn).

But, we’ve never named that story.

Until we do we’re undifferentiated.

The moment we did call our pastoral method (= responsible pastoralism) something, then an entire linkage from R&D, to the entire and wider agribusiness sector to the consumer would have a place to start.

We would give ourselves a common strategy – that mythical beast that has been talked about as being required for the past 40 years, but never cracked.

Sounds too simple…..which is probably why some people think it is impossible or crazy.

Or maybe not.

Agricultural R&D – a fantastic legacy and a means to move forward Peter Kerr Dec 04

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New Zealand, and its agriculture (systems) owes a heck of a lot to the billions of dollars poured into its research and development over the past 120 years.

Our wealth has, literally, been built on sunshine, soil and fresh air – and more importantly applied brains figuring out how to convert pastoral production into protein. (Actually, and to be fair, it is sunshine, soil and water – but that doesn’t work quite as well from a poetic or story POV).

For nearly a century, the ever refined pastoral method (essentially graze pasture, rest it, graze, rest…) has evolved to a quite elegant recipe.

Along the way, our scientists and science have developed deep understanding of soils, water, its microflora (with much to learn), the plant/microflora/soil interface, plants (especially grass and clover), the plant/animal connection, rumens and their biology, and optimising plant and animal growth. From a business perspective we’ve developed a way to manage quite complex systems.

(From a romance perspective, it’s working in harmony with the seasons).

Our pastoral method has deep intellectual property.

It is one reason farmers and scientists from round the world have beaten a path to our door, studying, learning, adapting.

It is one reason that back in the day, people like Mac McMeeken, Leonard Cockayne and Bruce Levy were household names from the 20’s to the 60s.

There was a public realisation that the learning we’d achieved provided a platform for an excellent standard of living.

It’s great that our economy has got away from such a reliance on agriculture, diversifying biologically and smartly. Equally, the notion that we’re trying to feed the world is well-gone.

The body of knowledge remains however.

And, even more in an environment of ‘man-made’, the proven way that products can be sustainably made from our agricultural method has a value way and above of how much we’ve dared to believe.

By naming our story, we would provide a way to associate imagery and emotion of our pastoral method with the science. pasture Harmonies (as an example of a name) would be a way for the R&D to again shine, lead improvement with the consumer onboard.

It is also a way for agricultural R&D to have greater investment, enable the wider NZ population to realise the treasure trove of knowledge behind our green hills, and provide a much stronger story with which to attract smart young and not-so-young people into the industry.

Or maybe not.

Perhaps all our agriculture needs to do is pedal ever faster, keeping our eye and focus on the ground instead of looking up and realising the potential of owning our story.

What would responsible pastoralism mean? (A strategic ‘glue’) Peter Kerr Nov 27

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My contention is, by branding our method (pasture Harmonies) and taking that through on products to the consumer, NZ Inc would become the global custodians for responsible pastoralism.

What would that mean?

In one word, ‘glue’.

I argue that as nation of rugged individualists, the thing that has been missing for our farmers, our agritech, our marketers and our publics is a common sense of purpose.

Sure, there’s a sense that agriculture’s the backbone of the country’s economy and a worthy, if dull, image we take when we’re offshore. It’s hardly riveting though.

And across a plethora of ag industry reports and plans and initiatives of the past 40 years, the constant message is that ‘we’ need a shared strategy.

The obvious point, the obvious underpinning where we share a story and method, has never been put forward as a strategic platform.

But why would this act as‘glue’.

Firstly, in a world in which knowledge is seen as having value, it would clearly indicate that there’s a heck of a lot of knowhow in how we’ve learned to convert sunshine, soil and fresh air into fantastic products.

Branding our method would also enable farming to be a lot less defensive, and provide an underpinning argument for farmers’ contribution to our country.

Not the least, it would be a separate component, alongside the electric fences, animal and plant genetics and other agritech components that we sell overseas.

That is, instead of giving away (and implying that it has no value) the knowledge component of responsible pastoralism, we’d have a means to charge for the knowhow.

And on that overseas note, we’d also have a platform on which to partner with others.

If we enable other (world) farmers to be part of our brand, and also make more money, not only could we profit, but we’d be clearly seen to be spreading and encouraging the adoption of responsible pastoralism.

All it takes is for us to name/brand what we do.

Maybe it is just too simple?

Maybe we’d rather look for a complicated strategy that no one can explain in a sentence?

Maybe a common sense view isn’t commonsense after all?

P.S. I envisage that individual farmers would sign in/up to an as yet to be defined philosophy and statement of a sustainable responsible pastoralism. However, it probably would require no more than the current good practice, put down simply on one sheet of paper.

We all own our agricultural story…..that’s the problem Peter Kerr Nov 20


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?

What does our agriculture offer?……..romance and reassurance Peter Kerr Nov 13

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I’ll be the first to admit that the frilly, intangible, non-scientific aspects of what and how we produce our agricultural products can be a tricky little number to get your head around.

Much of what we’re good at doing as a nation is hard-edged, ‘proven’ – be it across on and off farm technical performance, engineering disciplines, the All Blacks even – all those things that you can measure and monitor.

But, for a moment let’s just sit and accept these quantifiable aspects.

What else does our agriculture offer?

In a word (and now it may get really uncomfortable) – ROMANCE.

That is, in a world that for most people (especially the ones with discretionary disposable income) is urban, concrete, and pressured, we represent an ideal.

We represent an image that is matched by a reality. We are both olde world and modern; a ‘place’ where you have to work alongside nature using modern (including digital) tools, that still involves the type of honesty inherent in getting your hands dirty (literally).

And, in a modern working world that mostly occurs inside a building, the thought of working outside, producing physical outputs by combining a range of inputs (climatic, prices, scientific, gut-feel) is a wonderfully beguiling thought.

Put another way, (modern, as opposed to peasant) farming, the way we do it, offers a back-story for the piece of meat in a supermarket, that very few other products can.

It is an image and reality that resonates with the heart.

But the fact that we haven’t named this (back) story means we can only deal with the cold, hard facts of matter.

That’s all head stuff – and at that level all you’ve got to compete with is price.

My argument is, at an NZ Inc level, the moment we publicly and globally claim the mandate as being the world’s best at responsible pastoralism by naming our story, we provide ourselves with a completely offer to the world.

We would, in fact, step out of where we are now, and like the best movies, offer romance. That we back this elusive romantic notion with the reassurance of science is totally synergistic, completely non-commodity.

But maybe the idea of romance is naïve and unrealistic for our agriculture.

Are we therefore doomed to remaining stuck in the mud?

Our agriculture’s much more than the sum of its parts Peter Kerr Nov 06

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This post also appears at

Too much, arguably all the time, we look at all the individual components of our farm production systems……and beat ourselves up about them.

We could use less fertiliser, our use of water isn’t that optimal at times, occasionally there’s animal welfare issues, and as for degradation of waterways……

And that’s just on-farm.

Get off-farm and meat marketers are continually giving a figurative fingers to each other, the ever-declining wool industry’s in(ward)-fighting continues and everybody wants to take a pot-shot at Fonterra – including sometimes Fonterra itself.

Meanwhile, back in the city, farmers and farms and all things associated with them are fair game for all and sundry to have a go at.

We can’t see the wood for the trees.

It is as if instead of standing back and looking at the whole picture of say the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, we go in with a magnifying glass and try to check it out.

‘Oh, messy brushstroke there’, ‘could’ve used a different shade of skin tone here’, ‘that eyeball’s not quite even’.

But then we never pull back and contemplate its beauty, its completeness, its balance.

Luckily, from art’s point of view, it is only art historians and art archivists and art lovers who get that close – but all the time they appreciate the big picture.

We, we never give ourselves the opportunity to ponder that, wow, we (mostly) wisely use nature’s resources and sunlight and produce fantastic products.

And seeing as I’m on an art bent, even if we stand back and look at the big picture, we’ve never given it a name. We can’t even begin to describe the components of the picture because there’s no start point.

da Vinci didn’t call his masterpiece ‘Picture of a reasonably pretty, enigmatically-smiling woman’ (though at least it would’ve been a name).

My argument is; over the past 100 years or so, we’ve painted a great picture, provided it with a stylish frame.

But, because we’ve never named it, (and getting back to the main point) it is as if our wonderful picture competes with one completed by a house painter.

Because we’ve never given a name to responsible pastoralism, we’re undifferentiated, unable to precisely say why our produce should command a premium.

But, the whole of our agriculture is more than the sum of its parts.

Or maybe it’s not.

Perhaps our inability to stand back and think romantically about our total offer means we deserve to forever be in the downward spiral of commodity produce and prices?

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

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This story is also posted at

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?

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

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This story also appears at

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.

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