Communications expert says the agrifood sector needs a rapid response group

The agrifood sector needs to establish a rapid-response crisis management group to protect the reputation of New Zealand’s food products, says a communication expert from Massey University.

Dr Chris Galloway says the agrifood sector is “worth literally billions of dollars to the New Zealand economy” and the best way to minimise the impact of the next crisis is with a rapid and coordinated response between industry and government.

“In a situation like the Fonterra botulism scare you really need coordinated messaging and responses to avoid confusion and to show that you are on top of the situation,” Dr Galloway says.

“Agrifood – and New Zealand’s reputation for quality and safety – is too important to the wider economy for government to take a hands-off approach. Our reputation allows us to charge a premium in overseas markets, such as China. If that reputation is damaged it has a direct dollar consequence – and not just on the individual companies concerned.”

Dr Galloway says industry and government agencies like the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) do a good job, but past crises have shown coordination gaps in terms of messaging and the timing of announcements. He says the first step is to identify key stakeholders and do joint scenario planning.

“One of the things that really speeds things up in a crisis is pre-authorising people to make certain decisions without having to go up the organisational food chain. If you have a crisis management group that has run some scenarios and can agree on a response, they will deal with a live contamination threat much more efficiently – and that can really minimise reputational damage.”

Dr Galloway will discuss his ideas at the latest Big Issues in Business seminar, hosted by the Massey Business School. The event’s theme is ‘Safe food, safe business’ and Dr Galloway will be joined by MPI director-general Martyn Dunne and Jo Finer, director group regulatory, global brands and nutrition at Fonterra.

The three speakers will discuss strategies for managing reputational risk in the agrifood sector, including identifying potential threats, proactively managing risks and repairing a reputation after it’s been damaged.

Dr Galloway also believes a rapid-response team that meets regularly could share market intelligence about potential threats.

“Organisations individually scan for risks in their operating environment – but let’s have a way of bringing those insights together to help anticipate risks and formulate coordinated responses. We are too small a country, and the agrifood sector is too important, for national interest not to take priority over individual company interests.”

The seminar is being held on Thursday 4 June.

More money for science in the Budget – but is it being fairly allocated?

Is competitive funding working?

Not according to Kate McGrath, director of the MacDiarmid Institute.

On the institute’s blog, she says scientists are having to function in a seemingly ever-tightening resource environment.

She took particular aim at the Marsden Fund, saying it needed to be restructured.

Recently the RSNZ has released Invitations to the second round of Marsden, and proposals for MBIE contestable funding and for the EQC have been submitted. For each of these three there are aspects of the processes that have led to considerable discussion within different parts of the sector. Listen to these concerns and you see that there is some validity to them.

Commenting on the Marsden results from the first round, McGrath congratulated those who have made it through to the second round.

But she asked:

Should we be reviewing the Marsden process? Is a two stage process the right way to go and at what cost; how we do it now vs. another option? What is the opportunity cost? Difficult questions to answer but surely worth consideration.

McGrath has raised different questions about the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment system for considering contestable grants.

She concluded:

The pie is limited, and in the university sector, for example, considering external research income, most of it is paid for by the New Zealand tax payer … In real dollar amounts, actually, the pie may even be shrinking.

McGrath’s post prompted an interview on Nine to Noon.  You can listen to her here ( 12 min 57 sec )

Radio NZ later reported:

The fund distributes about $55 million a year and this year 1200 people applied for funding. The success rate usually sits at about 7 percent.

Dr McGrath’s comments are unusual, because those in top science roles do not often criticise the model, for fear it will affect their funding.

Scientists put forward an expression of interest, and then, if a local panel likes the idea, they will be asked for a more thorough application, viewed by international experts.

This year 200 proposals have been selected for the final round – about 50 fewer than last year.

Marsden Fund chair Dr Juliet Gerrard told Radio NZ  changes this year were because of a slight drop in applications, and $3 million less to hand out.

“There was a strategic decision to reduce the burden on the community and referees on the second round because that it where all the work comes in.

“There is about a 10 percent decrease on those going through to the second round, or approximately two proposals per panel. ”

The Marsden Fund estimated the saving in wasted time at $200,000.

Science Minister Steven Joyce is reported to be happy with the way the fund works and said criticism would likely be similar if it were a one-step process.

He also said science funding was increasing and has increased faster than inflation.

“The amount the fund has been allocated has gone up 40 percent in six years, while the overall science budget has increaed by $1.5 billion.

“On top of that, the number of people working in science in the public and private sector has also increased significantly.”

Anthony Scott, chief executive of Science New Zealand, agrees this year’s Budget strengthens areas critical to a productive, competitive economy: capability development in science and engineering, and supporting science and innovation investment into areas that will make a difference for New Zealand.

“The Government has carried through its election commitment to consider regional research institutes. Government is setting aside up to $25 million over the next three years for one to three new privately-led regional research institutes for possible establishment over the next four to five years.

“CRIs will be keen to work with government on this process. Any new institutes should complement the CRIs and other existing providers’ extensive existing regional networks and presence.

“The business case process is the place to ask the hard questions of each proposal. Criteria should include adding value over and above well-established regional capability, avoiding duplication of facilities and capability or adding complexity to the system.

“Crown Research Institutes employ 3600 FTEs staff around New Zealand, across some 50 sites from Kerikeri in Northland to Lauder and Invermay in Otago. Many are co-located with other CRIs and/or universities and private sector companies to form critical mass. They are well-established integral elements in the local economies, linked with sectors, economic agencies and Maori, and bring national and global networks to the local region.

 “The R&D eco-system overall is moving towards greater sector and regional collaboration across research organisations and government, which CRIs are actively encouraging. In doing so it is important that the amount of funding going into front-line science is maximised.

Scott said his organisation looked forward to the release by the Minister of his National Statement of Science Investment.

It supports science research funding being flexible, less complex and more closely focussed on research that is excellent and relevant to New Zealand.

“We are hopeful that the current review of CRI Core Funding will also support the substantial value it adds to the national system, ensuring connectivity to sectors, international linkages and science diplomacy and attention to current needs and developing new opportunities for New Zealand from our science.”

“The 14 per cent increase in grant funding available through Callaghan Innovation will encourage more businesses to grow through innovation. This follows on from other changes such as deductions for black-hole R&D spending and allowing start-ups to cash out tax losses from R&D spending.

“The number of businesses investing in R&D has been growing in recent years, as they see that companies with R&D-led products or services have higher earnings and greater competitiveness in world markets. They are now spending over $1m a week more on R&D than in 2012, and spending twice as much as government on R&D.

“Businesses are also looking externally for expertise which can have an impact. More than 3 out of four dollars spent externally by business on R&D is spent with CRIs, and this has been increasing in recent years.

Scott also welcomed further increases in tuition subsidy or places for tertiary training in science, agriculture and engineering and the commitment to increase New Zealander’s engagement with science and technology.

The New York Times and a natural-capital approach to water management

california map

Brent Clothier’s group bulletin includes an item of interest to NZIAHS members and readers of this blog based on an article in the New York Times. He writes: 

It has been said of Californians that they “… love water, but hate rain”.

That conundrum is biting them now. The west of the US is in the grips of a massive drought, with a bleak outlook. Not because of the lack of rain ironically. But it is due to climate change which has progressively melted the snowpack which controls the bulk of the supply of water into Californian catchments.

So how do you make sense of the natural capital value of water?

Mark Bittman, a New York Times op-ed writer, recently advocated an opinion here:

Bittman gets straight to the nub of the problem

“Almost every number used to analyze California’s drought can be debated, but this can be safely said: No level of restrictions on residential use can solve the problem. The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.”

He went on to contend  that

“… more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person making money off this, that’s just nuts.”

And then he says

“… the big question is not, “How do we survive the drought?” — which could well be the new normal — but, “How do we allocate water sensibly?” California grows fruits and vegetables for everyone; that’s a good thing. It would be an even better thing, however, if some of that production shifted to places like Iowa, once a leading grower of produce.”

So what are the crops that need to be considered?

Bittman shows that

“… California grows alfalfa (which uses more water in total than any other crop — yes, more than almonds) that then gets shipped to China. It grows lettuce in the desert, and other crops in places that make no sense. The state has also become the biggest dairy producer in the country; at least a part of that industry would work better back east, where both water and land are available. “

Bittman steers his readers to these numbers for agriculture (sorry about the imperial units) …

-1x-1

But….

“It won’t be easy to rationalize water use in the face of powerful water-dependent interests; though agriculture is a surprisingly minuscule part of the state’s gross domestic product, it’s a big political force.”

Yet…

“.In most areas, groundwater for landowners is “free,” as long as you can dig a well that’s deep enough. This has led to a race to the bottom: New, super-deep wells, usually drilled at great expense, are causing existing shallower wells, often owned by people with less money, to run dry.”

And truly the water is running out …

They’re sucking on…

“Groundwater that’s built up over a millennium which is being removed too rapidly to be recharged. Those aquifers will most likely never be replenished, making this a form of environmental suicide.”

Bittman’s  answer is that…

”It would be better to have a national policy preventing profit-making from public water and to encourage agriculture where it’s more naturally supported by the climate.”

It sounds like the NYT writer is advocating a natural-capital approach to manage our collective utilisation of the ecosystem services that our landscapes provide us. Good stuff. Politically tough – but it’s really the only way forward.


* Dr Brent Clothier is Science Group Leader, Production Footprints & Biometrics Sustainable Production, at Plant & Food Research

ePress to publish a multi-disciplinary, multi-format biosecurity research series,

Perspectives in Biosecurity editors Dan Blanchon and Mel Galbraith have announced a research series due for release at Unitec’s in-house online publisher ePress. It is a multi-disciplinary digital series of research outputs covering all aspects of the field of biosecurity.

The work will be authored primarily by staff, students, graduates, associates, and collaborators of Unitec, addressing biosecurity issues.

“Biosecurity embraces many disciplines,” says Blanchon.

“There is a great deal of creative and engaging research happening and we wanted to provide a platform that brings together the diverse strands that make up the discipline as well as capturing and supporting the innovative outputs along with the more traditional.’

The research series is a first for both Unitec and the field of biosecurity because of the the multi-disciplinary and multi-format nature.

Galbraith says:

“There is nothing like it in our field that we are aware of”.

But ePress has worked with several styles of publications including eMedia.

The authors have invited inquires from potential authors as they work on the first selection of papers to publish under the series banner this year.

This includes an eMedia webmap of the Queensland fruit fly’s geographical journey.

More information can be found here.

Four more centres of research excellence funded

Four more centres of research excellence have been selected by the Tertiary Education Commission at the end of the second round of CoREs funding.

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce has commended successful applicants, the Bio-Protection Research Centre (Lincoln University), The Riddet Institute (Massey University), QuakeCore: Centre for Earthquake Resilience (University of Canterbury) and Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (The University of Auckland.)

The successful CoREs will focus on sustainable pest management solutions, food science and human health, earthquake disaster resilience, and Māori research.

The announcement means the number of cross-institutional centres of research excellence around the country will increase from six to 10. All 10 will receive five years of funding from 2016 to 2020.

Joyce said CoREs provided an excellent collaborative environment for the delivery of world-leading, innovative and strategically focused research.

The work of all 10 CoREs would deliver benefits to New Zealand across economic, environmental and social platforms that will make a difference to the lives of all New Zealanders, he said.

The announcement followed a comprehensive selection process managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Tertiary Education Commission.

All 21 unsuccessful applicants from the 2013/14 selection round of funding had the opportunity to re-submit a new application for the remaining CoREs places. Applicants had the opportunity to strengthen their proposals between the selection rounds.

Three of the four CoREs selected this time are previous CoREs which were not successful in the first round of funding last year, while QuakeCore is a brand new research centre.

CoREs have been operating in New Zealand since 2002. In that time the Government has provided over $434.5 million in funding to current and previous CoREs.

Feds weclome climate change conversation

Federated Farmers has welcomed the Government’s public consultation on climate change, ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, in December.

Anders Crofoot, the federation’s climate change spokesman, said it was important for the public to be part of the discussion in setting New Zealand’s post-2020 climate change target.

A critical element to having that discussion was that everyone understood the issues and trade-offs involved in setting our contribution.

New Zealand’s economy was driven by exports with 73 percent of our merchandise exports coming from the primary industries, worth $35.2 billion, Crofoot said.

UN projections showed the global population peaking at 11 billion by 2075 and FAO estimates show agricultural output must increase by 60 percent by 2050 to meet this growth.

Crofoot said:

“While New Zealand cannot feed the world we will play our part. It would be irresponsible of us to squander or underutilise our resources.

“Aside from being a net food exporter in a world of increasing food shortage, New Zealanders can be very proud that our farmers are among the most carbon efficient in the world. This puts us at an advantage on a global scale both scientifically and economically.

“Through our commitments with the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases and the Palmerston North based Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGGRC) our country’s leadership extends beyond being an efficient producer of quality food and puts us on the world stage in our ability to reduce emissions.”

Farmers and their investment in science through levy bodies had reduced their emissions per unit of meat and milk produced by 1.3 percent a year since 1990, Crofoot said.

Its scientific and innovative advances could be exported to the rest of the world’s primary producers.

Continued investment in institutes like these would ensure New Zealand’s climate change commitments were met while growing a strong and vibrant economy.

Funding confirmed for bioprotection research

The Bio-Protection Research Centre – a Centre of Research Excellence located at Lincoln University – has had its funding confirmed for another five years.

Established in 2003, the centre’s primary goal is to strengthen the value of New Zealand’s pastoral, horticultural and forestry industries through research to generate next generation bioprotection (biosecurity and biocontrol) solutions.

“We are absolutely thrilled that the Tertiary Education Commission has continued to fund the Bio-Protection Research Centre until 2020. The work this Centre does is fundamental research that underpins plant bioprotection and plant biosecurity for New Zealand and is strategically relevant,” says Lincoln University Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Scholarship and Research, Dr Stefanie Rixecker.

The BPRC brings together New Zealand’s leading experts in bioprotection, and is a partnership between Lincoln University, AgResearch, Massey University, Plant & Food Research and Scion.

It includes collaborations with several other national and international research institutes and incorporates one of the strongest bioprotection postgraduate training groups in the Southern Hemisphere.

Former students are employed in research, industry and policy positions throughout the world.

The centre has three main research themes focussed on protecting the plant-based systems in New Zealand: pests and pathogens, biological controls, and biosecurity and invasion.

“The BPRC research is led by outstanding scientists who are leaders in their respective fields and the quality of their scientific work is highly respected,” says Bio-Protection Research Centre Director, Professor Travis Glare.

The funding gave financial security to the centre for the coming five years to continue to work very closely with other government organisations and industry, to develop novel bioprotection tools and solutions, Professor Glare said.

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