Our agriculture’s much more than the sum of its parts

By Peter Kerr 06/11/2012

This post also appears at www.pastureharmonies.org

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?