Posts Tagged ‘AgResearch’

Research is critical to future prosperity

March 16, 2016

By the time most of you read this, I will have delivered an address to a Meat Industry Research workshop at Ruakura. Preparation for this has severely taxed my knowledge of research directed at the future prosperity of the red meat sector. Depending on the reaction to my presentation, I will almost certainly find out whether or not I have succeeded in talking sense and, more important, introducing some relevant fresh ideas to the audience of scientists and people with infinitely greater technical credentials than I. (more…)

Election result should be good for agriculture

October 1, 2014

Beef+Lamb NZ’s Manifesto which was issued before the Election contains a very concise summary of the red meat sector’s wish list for the next three years, although it doesn’t necessarily include the big elephant in the room of meat industry restructure. But the National government’s attitude on that one is well known and unlikely to change until the industry can present an agreed solution favoured by a majority of industry participants.

 

I contacted Nathan Guy, at present acting Minister of Agriculture, to find out the government’s priorities for the next term and how they dovetailed with the B+LNZ and Federated Farmers manifestos. He responded in some detail, stating satisfaction with the strong support received from rural New Zealand which gave confidence the last government was very much on the right track.

 

Major initiatives would be RMA reform, a strong policy requirement of the Prime Minister, continuing focus on strengthening biosecurity protection, investment in science and innovation which has increased 70% since 2007/8, attracting more young people into careers in agriculture, more free trade deals, an increase in water storage and developing the potential of Maori agriculture.

 

This all seems pretty consistent with the two manifestos, although there will never be enough money to go round all the priorities listed. Feds’ push for $600 million additional investment in science over the next three years with specific reference to the three Centres of Research Excellence which missed out on the last funding round may be a leap too far. $1.5 billion is already committed for next year with a large proportion going towards the primary industries through universities, the Callaghan Institute, the Sustainable Farming Fund, AgResearch and Scion.

 

PGP funding of $708 million has been allocated across 18 different projects with matching industry investment with an assessed potential to generate returns of up to $11 billion by 2025. My impression from Guy was very much the intention to proceed with present policies which all appear to be on track to deliver the desired outcomes.

 

My first question to B+LNZ’s chairman James Parsons was whether he saw any change to current policy settings following National’s re-election as well as whether there were any specific areas where more action and investment were needed.

 

He is very committed to the success of the PGP programme, citing the Red Meat Profit Partnership as a prime example of the benefits from providing a platform from which nine partners – six processors, two banks and B+LNZ – could combine forces; there was no way this would have happened without government funding.

 

One of Parsons’ main concerns is to achieve the goal of the People Powered report produced in July to attract an average of 5000 people a year into the industry. However as the report shows over the next 10 years, the most important factor will not be the absolute number of entrants, but the change in the make up of the workforce. In 2012 44% of the workforce had a tertiary qualification, but this will rise to 62% by 2025.

 

Government response has been to raise subsidies for agricultural degrees at tertiary level or higher, as well as looking to improve information and material available to careers advisers. I suspect this will not be nearly enough on its own to achieve the required rate of increase. It remains a mystery why a career in agriculture, New Zealand’s largest export sector by a country mile, continues to be less attractive than a whole range of other less exciting and productive choices.

 

Other priorities for B+LNZ include environmental policy with a sensible discussion about nutrient allocation, reduced regulation where appropriate, and negotiation of improved trade access agreements with important trading partners where New Zealand is at a disadvantage. Specific examples of priority agreements on tariffs which must be pursued vigorously are Korea and Japan, particularly on beef access, where progress has been slow.

Japan’s commitment to the TPP has stalled over dairy access, while Australia has a sub optimal FTA which provides for reducing beef tariffs, while New Zealand beef tariffs into Korea will be higher than those enjoyed by Canada and Australia from 2015. Non tariff barriers on Chinese imports of beef and green runners and beef to Indonesia are also an issue in need of urgent resolution.

 

Parsons corrected me when I raised the necessity of introducing NAIT for sheep if we are serious about controlling disease outbreaks such as Foot and Mouth. This would impose a conservatively estimated cost of $80 million on sheep farmers to track stock in the event of an incursion of what is a wind borne disease. NAIT is more relevant to food safety than biosecurity problems. An infinitely preferable mechanism for tracking livestock would be the mandated introduction of electronic Animal Status Declarations to avoid the use of paper records, impossible to trace quickly and comprehensively.

 

One topic notable by its absence from the manifesto is a Government Industry Agreement with the meat industry, already signed with the kiwifruit and bee industries. B+LNZ suggests road testing a GIA document for an outbreak of FMD before the industry would be willing to make a commitment.

 

On balance the new government’s agricultural policies appear to correspond to the wishes of the red meat sector which is a good start, built on the solid foundation of the last three years’. At a time when global demand for beef and sheepmeat is robust, this is a good time to emphasise the sector’s importance to our economy.

An overview of topical agricultural issues

March 14, 2014

There are four local issues exciting particular interest in the agricultural landscape at the moment: the ram breeders’ testy meeting with AgResearch in Gore, the case against Fonterra by MPI, the failure to award grants to three major research institutes, and Silver Fern Farms’ Eating Quality beef grading system. (more…)

Sheep farmers pushing for retention of Invermay

March 5, 2014

A group of southern sheep breeders and sheep and deer farmers is strongly lobbying the government to attend a meeting in Gore to be held next Wednesday 12th March. The meeting, to be chaired by past chairman of Beef + Lamb NZ Jeff Grant, will be the first time AgResearch has fronted up to breeders and farmers to talk to them about the planned transfer of research scientists from Invermay to Lincoln. (more…)

Milk powder scare will cause long term disruption

October 11, 2013

It may be a statement of the obvious, but the effects of Fonterra’s botulism scare will last much longer than originally hoped or imagined. Its impact on New Zealand’s international trade reputation gives the impression of being more disastrous than an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, always assumed to be the biggest disaster that could possibly happen. (more…)

Genetics programmes critical for improving productivity

September 14, 2013

Two complementary programmes have just been announced which promise to deliver improved sheep traits which will compensate for lower production and generate greater profits. (more…)

The botulism scare that wasn’t

August 28, 2013

So Fonterra’s botulism contamination problem wasn’t a problem after all according to the tests conducted by the Ministry for Primary Industries. It is most unfortunate that Fonterra got it so wrong that it felt the need to wear a hair shirt and submit itself, not to mention its own management, the government and the country as a whole, to the worst public relations disaster imaginable.

 

The original tests were carried out by AgResearch which still stands by its test results, but according to MPI’s tests by global experts, the whey protein contained a different gene from the Clostridium botulinum.

 

MPI took it seriously, the government took it seriously, Gary Romano fell on his sword and two managers have been dismissed. China was completely spooked by the prospect of infant deaths, while Russia and Sri Lanka have discovered an opportunity to place bans, temporary or otherwise, on New Zealand dairy production.

 

Infant formula manufacturers will have suffered untold damage to their businesses, from image, financial and future sales perspectives.

 

The damage to our image abroad has been incalculable. When newspapers all over the world take delight in writing headlines such as ‘100% Manure’ and question our right to promote our tourism industry on the back of our clean, green environment, one wonders whether we can ever recover from this single mistake.

 

The answer is that we will in time, but perhaps nobody will ever really believe the 100% Pure claim again, even if it was never meant to be taken literally.

 

Having said that, the recent spate of food safety problems, among them the apparent discovery of traces of chemicals which weren’t there, is not all that surprising when one thinks about it.

 

New   Zealand’s exports are massively weighted towards agriculturally based food products, all of which have the potential to pose more or less serious food safety issues. This is why MPI’s inspection regime is so comprehensive, although the dairy production problems may suggest to an outside observer that the systems in place are not as failsafe as they should be.

 

Only a couple of days ago Greens spokesperson, Stefan Browning, has called for MPI to stop the practice of allowing meat companies to carry out some of their own inspection procedures and revert to all meat inspection having to be performed by AsureQuality’s meat inspectors. Browning said the meat industry is potentially a comparable risk to the dairy industry.

 

Therefore it’s a great relief that the systems didn’t actually fail in the case of Fonterra’s dirty pipes. Someone who ought to know told me more than a week ago that there would be no traces of Clostridium botulinum found in the whey protein, so it all appears to have been a big fuss about nothing very much.

 

However there is a question as to whether all food safety has suddenly been compromised by a fall in standards caused by devolving responsibility to the companies which produce or process the food products. There is no evidence of a sudden drop in standards in spite of recent events, although conspiracy theorists will assume that independent Government employed inspection has been compromised by companies being allowed to inspect their own products.

 

In this case it was a test by AgResearch, a Crown Research Institute, that provoked the contamination scare, although presumably the product had already been cleared by Fonterra’s in house testing laboratory.

 

In the dairy industry there are 49 Approved Recognised Agencies including both independent testing agencies and company owned laboratories. This latest chain of events does not necessarily invalidate this testing structure.

 

There would appear to be potentially a long queue of people and organisations looking for compensation, including dismissed managers, infant formula manufacturers whose businesses have been undermined, Tourism New Zealand whose brand has been dragged through spilt milk powder and all those businesses which depend on our international reputation.

 

It is ironic that Fonterra has just announced its highest ever payout to farmers which will of course be great for the economy, but that might not be enough to compensate for the damage caused by the company’s PR disaster.

$38 million funding for greenhouse gas research

February 5, 2013

The Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc) has just announced that it has secured funding for a further seven years’ research into greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation. $2.3 million per annum will be contributed by industry partners to be matched by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment with the balance to come from AgResearch in its capacity as leader of the research project. (more…)

Call to Arms to treble agri-foods turnover

August 2, 2012

The Riddet Institute, a partnership of five organisations, The University of Auckland, AgResearch, Plant & Food Research, MasseyUniversity, and the University of Otago, encompasses the entire New Zealand science sector.

 

In its report A Call to Arms launched last week, it challenges New Zealand’s agri-foods sector to take the steps needed to realise its potential (more…)