Webinar discussion: What regenerative farming could mean for New Zealand in a global perspective

Over 400 people attended a recent webinar where experts discussed the global market potential of regenerative agriculture and what it could mean for New Zealand farming.
Tuesday, 27 October 2020

The NXZ webinar, in partnership with Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), was hosted by Julia Jones and featured Mike Lee, Co-CEO and founder of Alpha Food Labs and Nicola Johnston, Group Marketing Manager for Silver Fern Farms Ltd.

Lee, who presented live from New York, is part of the team undertaking a global research into the market potential of regenerative agriculture for New Zealand on behalf of B+LNZ, the Bragato Institute, with funding from The Ministry of Primary Industries. You can learn more about the research here.

Watch the webinar on YouTube

A global trend and opportunity for NZ

There has been a global surge in interest about regenerative agriculture in the last couple of years and people are becoming more considerate about the impact of their choices on the planet.

Johnston says this trend has extended to food, especially in Taste Pure Nature’s premium target market of conscious foodie consumers.

“Over the last eight years we’ve seen the rise of grass-fed as a key differentiating attribute in the red meat space and now we’re really looking for the next galvanizing insight.

“We’ve been monitoring the regenerative agriculture trend for some time, and it’s gaining momentum and rapidly accelerating. Therefore, we want to understand if there’s an opportunity for New Zealand."

Johnston highlighted that New Zealand has one of the most unique pastoral farming systems in the world and because of this, produce what we believe is a superior product.

“It’s grass-fed, it’s nutritious, we respect animal welfare and the list goes on. Regenerative agriculture gives us an opportunity to tell our farming story,” says Johnston.

Regenerative agriculture needs to be a producer-led movement

Lee says there is an opportunity for farmers to help shape what regenerative agriculture means and inform brands on the definition rather than the other way around.

He argues that the average consumer doesn’t know the term ‘regenerative’, however, they want clean water, clean air, healthy soils and nutritious and clean food.

“If we put aside the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ for a moment and ask ourselves, do we all believe we should leave the soil and water better then when we started? Should we make wholesome, accessible food and have communities that are strong, diverse and resilient? This is at the heart of regenerative agriculture,” he explains.

Lee’s strong view for this to be successful is that it needs to be a producer-led movement. It is an opportunity for farmers to be proactive and be a part of defining it, otherwise it will be defined to them by some of the large companies that are now starting to think in this space.

“Unlike the term ‘organic’, New Zealand is at the forefront and have the luxury to help shape this term before consumers run with it,” Lee says. 

In his view we didn’t necessarily have to define regenerative agriculture, but we could come up with broad principles that matched what consumers are looking for. 

Amplifying our storytelling

“This is an opportunity to amplify the New Zealand farm story and build recognition for its beef and lamb, not just for the taste but for the stewardship behind producing such a high-quality product,” Lee explains.

Johnston says this is an opportunity to capture the value of what New Zealand farmers already do and sell it on the world stage.

“I haven’t met a farmer who doesn’t think they should be recognised for what they’re doing to farm more sustainably, and also, I haven’t met a farmer who doesn’t want to do better.”

Lee says part of the challenge is helping consumers understand the true complexity and nuance of what it means to regenerate land to produce food while still making it digestible for the average consumer.

An opportunity to gain premium

Johnston says part of the research with B+LNZ is looking into the market potential and whether New Zealand beef and lamb can gain a premium for being labeled as regenerative.

“At Silver Fern Farms, we’ve proven that we’re able to identify the specific market opportunities based on consumer needs and then develop specific livestock programmes that meet those needs.

“In order to gain a premium, it is equally important that we’re able to verify those attributes to underpin our claims. Of the back of those programmes, we’re rewarding our farmers for doing more,” she says.

Lee says we still need to create the financial vehicles to help farmers and give them support who want to transition to more of a ‘regenerative farming system’ to help weather the transitioning period.

“You have to invest to change and there is still work to be done in cultivating the markets to gain the premium for it.”

The importance of Government policy

Lee’s global research into regenerative agriculture highlights the importance of Government policy.

“In some countries, the Government policy locks farmers into certain ways of farming through their subsidy systems because they only reward farmers for the number of acres they have and not the outcomes.

He believed New Zealand has an advantage as we do not have subsides to be more flexible and adjust our systems to what consumers are actually looking for. 

“Every link in the supply change has to work together to try get this to work on behalf of New Zealand on a global stage.

“Policy makers should think about how to incentive and make it easier for farmers to do the right thing by the plant,” he explains.

Find out more

Learn more about B+LNZ’s research into the market potential of regenerative agriculture: