European market visit

// Climate Change // International Trade

An update from B+LNZ Board chair Kate Acland.

image of Kate Acland

I have recently returned from a whirlwind trip to our markets in Europe where I met farmers, processors, regulators and attended the World Meat Congress. These discussions really shed some light on some significant recent shifts in the way the world views agriculture. 

What really struck me is that while the environment is still important, the speed of the implementation of environmental initiatives like the Green Deal have slowed recently.  The focus has shifted to food security as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the flow on impacts that has had on critical food exports.    

Conversations about sustainable agriculture also place the same level of importance on animal welfare and food security as the environment and climate. 

The environmental focus includes water, biodiversity and carbon, but increasingly it is about producing the most emissions efficient food with an emphasis on improving productivity and efficiency to tie in with food security goals. 

The reputation of red meat was an issue widely discussed at the World Meat Congress. This is a global challenge that requires collaboration and co-operation. Animal welfare standards and the assurance programmes that sit behind them are seen as critical by retailers and regulators.  

New Zealand is in a pretty good position on animal welfare, and we have an excellent reputation globally.  

The New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme includes animal welfare. This is world-leading and therefore provides a strong framework for responding to where things are at in this space. We need to capitalise on the strong position we have with almost all of our farms covered by the programme to tell this story internationally. 

A key priority for my visit was to get a sense of what countries are planning to do to manage their agricultural emissions and broaden the understanding of the warming impact of methane.   

There was reasonable understanding of GWP* among the officials and farming groups that I met with. Some like the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in England are actively promoting use of the metric but New Zealand is definitely far more advanced. We need to continue to push this conversation at all levels.   

I also found that in many of our meetings and discussions with farmer groups from the UK, Ireland, Scotland and France that the focus was on improving their emissions efficiency to produce food with a lower carbon footprint rather than lowering total emissions from agriculture.   

Again, New Zealand is in a strong position here due to our efficiency, but the rest of the world is chasing production efficiency hard and governments are incentivising farmers to do so. We must keep working to improve and we must keep investing in science to help give us the solutions we need. 

So, what is our responsibility as New Zealand farmers? Do we need to reduce emissions, produce more, or strike a balance? The answer may be a mix of all three.  

The visit reinforced to me that we should not rush things. The focus should be on setting up a trusted agricultural emissions measurement and benchmarking framework. This will allow us to demonstrate our commitment to global sustainability and differentiate ourselves from global averages. We should see this an opportunity.  

We must acknowledge that New Zealand has international emissions targets to meet and strike the balance between maintaining and growing one of the most emissions efficient food production systems in the world with meeting those targets. 

Although there is a slow-down in the implementation of many policies in the EU, the trajectory is clear and it’s being led by farmer groups and customers. A change in government in New Zealand will give us the opportunity as farmers to devise solutions to these challenges that are farmer-led. 

In Brussels, the NZ/EU Free Trade Agreement is being hailed by the EU as the gold standard. I made sure that people heard our view that it was definitely not gold standard for beef. 

These insights underscore the need for New Zealand farmers to stay informed and adaptable.  

As the world's perception of agriculture evolves, we must be prepared to meet international expectations and continue to lead the way in sustainable farming. Collaboration, adaptability, and a proactive stance are the keys to the future of New Zealand agriculture – now we have the opportunity to lead this conversation as farmers, so let’s make sure we do that.