Our Stories
Category: Climate Change

Motu panel discussion : E-Mission Possible Series

Mitigation in the land sector: 8 December 2017 — Phil McKenzie

At this half day workshop I was part of a panel addressing a range of questions. I spoke to this question.

What is the case for transformational change in NZ’s Agriculture Sector, and how might it be achieved?

The case for change had been presented by keynote speakers,  so I addressed some areas that I considered should be part of developing change.

Key Takeaways

  • Farmers have always been involved in transformation, adaptation and innovation, it is the way our land and systems have developed.
    Sometimes we need a nudge to get started.
  • We will need to explore new forms of collaborative leadership.
  • We need to consider principles based regulation, to give directional change while further science and research and measurement tools are developed and refined.
  • Change is disruptive and we need to have belief.
  • A belief that we can imagine a new future for agriculture.
  • A belief that farming can build on a culture of innovation to deliver that change.
  • A belief that we can leverage the examples of leaders and early adopters to make the minority the majority, and reach a tipping point for change.
  • Research, policy and value are all critical, but people are the most critical of all, and those who have to action the change need to be at the forefront of co-designing it.

Transformational Change in Action

Two weeks ago I was in Northern Southland for the opening of a new 1,450 ha QEII wetland, and full disclosure, it is named the McKenzie Covenant. It is located at the headwaters of the Aparima river and 80km away at the mouth of the river is where my parents secured a ballot farm. I was reflecting on the whole catchment changes, and the innovations farmers have implemented over the years. I also reflected on the stages of my career, and my own transformation. From a developer of land at scale to being championed for forever protecting a large area of native biodiversity, to now helping farmers to co-design climate smart improvements.

Farmer Resilience

What I have learnt is that farmers are adaptable, and have been innovating for years, as circumstances and new trends have emerged, and in the past have faced into and adapted to some significant transformations. Farmers, like all of us need time and encouragement to absorb, and adapt and align to change. Even before he won the Nobel prize this year, I was a fan of Richard Thaler and his Nudge approach to change. Being challenged with a nudge helps spark innovations and solutions that can grow alongside and help inform research and policy development. To help us achieve this I’d like to touch on three further components that I think are essential.

  1. First, collaborative leadership, with farmers at the core of co-designing the transformation and policy. People support what they help create. Fortunately we have some leading individuals and companies that have begun that change. They are often held up as examples of how the industry is performing. What sort of things are they doing? One example would be those who are using the data from their land and animals in a more precise and increasingly granular way to truly improve the productivity of their farms. They have a set of measures that extend beyond production to improve the effectiveness of their operations. Often, they started this journey with a purely financial focus, and have built resilient systems that get better returns, and because they can achieve this productivity with fewer ruminant animals, achieve lower GHG emissions. These leaders long ago fenced off their waterways, realised that was a good first step, asked themselves ‘what comes next?’ and got on with it.
  2. My second recommendation would be to get started with ­­Principles based regulation. We do need a set of baseline rules that everyone obeys, and then a set of principles that we can grow with which over time inform further change as new research and technology and market trends and ability to measure accurately on farm emerge. A principled approach means we can leverage off existing examples, and we avoid creating either just a mechanistic set of tick box rules, or that we continue to wait until just the right research gives us maybe a silver bullet or more precise ways of measuring existing, but ultimately insufficient programmes of change. Direction and intent are important when winning the hearts while we increasingly refine the science to win the minds. We need both social and physical science for complex challenges like climate change. Increasingly we will need flexibility and openness to new science and ideas. I like this quote from Simon Saunders outgoing Chair of the Farm Environment Trust.

    “The farming industry is in a continuum of change. What was seen as good practice 20 years ago, is not now.”I’m not so naive to think that transformation does not come without significant disruption some of which can be very uncomfortable. However, we are seeing significant global drivers including climate change and others that mean the risk of delaying or not transforming is quite high and would be even more disruptive to existing systems and investments.

  3. So, my third point and if you remember one thing it should be this, is that we should have belief.

    A belief that we can imagine a new possibility for agriculture, to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and the steps we need to get there.

    A belief that farmers building on their existing strengths and culture of innovation can leverage the opportunities to create and access value from new research, new customers and new stories.

    A belief that we can make the minority the majority and reach a tipping point for change.

What I know is that research, and policy and value are all critical, but people are the most critical of all, and that those who have to action the future have to be part of co designing it. I love working with farmers and those that support them, and have a huge respect for what they do. I know we can achieve transformational change and that we can make it a positive experience.

Further information on the Economic and Public Policy Research that Motu are involved with, including their work on environment and agriculture and climate change can be found here: http://motu.nz/.