If we think beyond the actuality of how we produce….

By Peter Kerr 25/09/2012

(This post can also be seen 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 – <em>of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life</em> – 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 100 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?)

0 Responses to “If we think beyond the actuality of how we produce….”

  • 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.
    I’ve emphasised a couple of words. Those with an eye to issues such as water quality would probably disagree with you on this statement. All the branding in the world won’t hide the fact that farm runoff into waterways is a major problem with a significant negative impact on the quality of aquatic environments.

  • Hi Alison,

    Totally agree we have an issue in some of our waterways with runoff.

    What I’m suggesting is that by laying claim to the pastoral space, we’d have a heck of an incentive (i.e. living up to brand claims) of fixing the issue. At the moment, we tend to ignore it. Once we ‘owned’ it, ‘we’ would do something about it – at least that’s my argument.


  • Don’t we already have a brand claim? Something along the lines of “NZ – 100% pure”, not mention “Clean, green, New Zealand”. I have yet to see much evidence that this ‘ownership’ is having a great deal of effect.

  • As with happening as we speak attempts by NZTE to derive another ‘brand’ for NZ, I believe the Clean, green NZ thing is too generic, and not 100% true.

    Our comparative advantage, our science, our primary offer to the world is via agriculture. We’ve never implicitly or explicitly named it, and therefore never given ourselves a story for consumers who care to resonate with. The opportunity still exists

  • I’m with Sir Paul in that we should move beyond commodity agriculture – and diversify around many niche/niche (another speech or two that he gave) areas.

    However, our core underpinning is integrated and managed pastoral systems; and I contend we’ve done ourselves a huge disfavour in never owning that story.

    We still could – or is that a horse that’s bolted? ( to mix metaphors!)

  • Agriculture is indeed an ‘underpinning’ of our economy at present, but in fact we do own/have ‘owned’ that story. Where we disagree, I think, is on the issue of whether we should – in attempting to further ‘own’ it – be aiming to develop a brand/slogan/whatever that ignores the reality of farming’s impact on our ecosystems.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember we’ve been around this branding call before.

    If the product doesn’t live up to the new branding, it’s risky. As a silly example, image branding some orange juice as ‘pure juice’ when in fact it had added sugar. You’d be setting yourself up to fail – and once mindsets are against you, they’re hard to turn around. Better to not go there, I think.

    Personally I’d like better branding of science in NZ as drawing on many things, but I’m leery of resting it on an vision as idealistic as that and it’d too easily fall flat.

    Also, I suspect a more important element than branding might be the loss of stronger ties between basic research in the then DSIR and the farming community. I gather the links are still there, but in a different form and not the closer ties they once had. I don’t know this first-hand, but it’s the impression I get from talking with others – other readers are welcome to correct me or elaborate.

  • All good points, especially re the science connection(s) to farmers.

    I suspect that, if we provided a means for consumers who care, consumers with money, to connect with farmers and our farming system (which is essentially rotational grazing), we would change the whole dynamic – and incentivise the industry to clean up its act.

    To reiterate, globally, the responsible pastoralism ‘space’ is unoccupied.

    Why shouldn’t it be ‘us’?

  • I doubt we need branding within NZ for people to ‘connect’ in order to support farmers. Just an uninformed opinion, but every adult in this country knows our connection to farming as it is. (I can’t speak of details, but I’m aware of plenty of projects that link money, farming and science as it is. I honestly don’t think this is the or a key problem.)

    “To reiterate, globally, the responsible pastoralism ‘space’ is unoccupied.”

    Evidence? (After all science writing ought to be able critical analysis not ‘empty’ advocacy!) I was in Europe earlier this year. Several countries there seem to be laying claim to just that space, not that I studied in detail or whatnot – just passing observations of traveller.

  • the responsible pastoralism ‘space’ is unoccupied.
    Another thought on this: branding in advance of actually doing something is not likely to achieve what you are stating for it. Those global markets do look critically at such claims (& we’ve seen it happen earlier, with air miles). Putting up a brand in advance, in the hope that this will get people to make some change, is likely to fall over as a tactic as soon as someone from overseas notices that the claim & the actuality don’t match. (An emperor’s-new-clothes sort of thing.)