Opportunities in a changing world highlighted at Red Meat Sector Conference

// Industry

Climate change is the biggest opportunity for New Zealand agriculture since refrigerated shipping. This was the scene-setting message from entrepreneur and farmer Geoff Ross, who was the opening speaker at the Red Meat Sector Conference in Rotorua last week.

image of red meat sector conference banner

The founder of 42 Below Vodka, Ross is also the owner of Lake Hawea Station, New Zealand’s first carbon certified farm.

“What if we looked at climate change as an opportunity, and the reason why we have such a unique opportunity is the world is demanding low carbon footprint food and fibre, which is what we produce through our extensive food systems.”

“We have this massive advantage; we are way ahead of other countries.”

The day-long conference, hosted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association, highlighted the challenges but also the significant opportunities for NZ’s red meat sector in a world grappling with climate change and, what one speaker described as the world’s Chief Innovation Officer, COVID-19.

The need for red meat producers to know their greenhouse gas numbers as a proof point for sustainability, and tell their stories, came across strongly throughout the day.

Phil Houlding, Director, International Policy, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said knowing the numbers could be an advantage for NZ.

“There is not a lot of data out there in the market place so NZ could have a huge advantage there.”

He said globally, there is a growing focus on food production and the environment and while it was difficult to determine exactly what sustainability means, it comes down to looking after people as well as animals and the land.

“There are lots of different terms such as circular agriculture, agro-ecology, regenerative ag, planetary boundaries but they all have the same messages, it’s what people care about.”

He says MPI's approach is direct bilateral engagement to determine what different countries understand by sustainability, to influence key organisations and to invest in research.

“There is a focus on robust evidence or measurement globally.”

Rome-based Anne Mottet from The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, talked about the challenges of measuring sustainability in livestock and the importance of metrics.

Again, this was good news for NZ red meat producers as from a nutritional viewpoint, red meat was amongst the most nutrient dense foods and when produced with drymatter that could not also be eaten by humans ie pasture, the metrics around the environmental impact of livestock systems becomes more favourable.

Mottet said the metrics needed to evolve to take into account this nutritional value of red meat and move away from the current way of measuring its environmental footprint which is greenhouse gas per kilogram of product.

“If we look at GHG emissions relative to nutrients then it is quite a different picture.”

FAO was also looking at carbon footprinting using GWP* which takes into account the short-lived nature of methane.

New York-based Mike Lee from Alpha Food Labs has been leading a piece of work on behalf of B+LNZ and NZ Winegrowers to understand the current state and future potential for Regenerative Agriculture in NZ.

Sharing some insights into the report, which will be released in the coming weeks, Lee outlined how his team undertook a market scan of the US, UK and German markets to understand the state of Regenerative Agriculture, who is leading the movement and what’s working. They also carried out consumer insights in those markets.

He says while the majority of consumers were willing to pay an average 20% premium for sustainably produced foods, what Regenerative Agriculture actually means has yet to be clearly defined.

“A unified narrative is needed to deflect fears of greenwashing but leaving space for the producer to be the centre of the narrative, to be the hero.”

Lee says NZ has a real opportunity to lead the Regenerative Agriculture movement with producers in the driving seat.

This might mean telling the rest of the world that they’ve finally caught up because we’ve been doing this all along.

“Celebrate and find the NZ version of Regenerative Agriculture.”

The conference also featured two panel discussions which looked at building resilience in supply chains and the challenge of attracting young people into the sector.

Look out for more detailed articles and links to videoed highlights from the Red Meat Sector conference in the coming weeks.