New book deals with key issues around the new biological economy

The Royal Society of New Zealand today has drawn attention to a new book which deals with the ways New Zealanders are transforming how they make a living off the land, from milk and merino to wine and tourism .

The New Biological Economy is the second book to result from a project funded by the Marsden Fund in 2009. The first book, Biological Economies: Experimentation and the politics of agri-food frontiers(Routledge Hardback 2016, paperback 2018)had a stronger  academic focus.  The new book  is written for a public audience.

It poses some key questions:

  • Do dairy and tourism have a sustainable future?
  • Can the primary industries keep growing without destroying the natural world?
  • Does the future of New Zealand lie in high tech or in the innovations of a land-based economy?

The book explores how high-volume, low value-add industries in New Zealand can continue to grow – and do so sustainably.

We can do it with merino, we can do it with meat – and to a certain extent we can probably do it with dairy and with tourism as well,” co-author and associate investigator Professor Eric Pawson told Kathryn Ryan of RNZ’s Nine to Noon.

Co-author and co-principal investigator Professor Richard Le Heron, FRSNZ, told Nine to Noon Miraka, a Māori-owned company north of Taupō, uses geothermal energy to process up to 250,000,000 litres of milk a year into powder and heat-treated products.

“There’s a lot of what we refer to as cross-scaling associated with what they’re [Miraka] doing – capsicum and tomatoes and suchlike drawing on the energy source that they have at their particular location,” he says.

The full interview isThe New Biological Economy: Sustainability, economy and adding value to primary industry commodities.

The New Biological Economy takes readers out on to farms, orchards and vineyards and inside the offices and factories of processors and exporters, to show how New Zealanders are meeting the challenges. The book is available to purchase from Auckland University Press.

For their research, the ten authors spent nine years talking with farmers and other commercial players to really ground the research in what is happening on the farms and in the factories.

Professor Le Heron said the team members had to overcome the barrier that at first people didn’t want to talk with academics, but over time some really fruitful conversations took place.

He describes the project “as an example of engaged social science research feeding back into wider society”.

“The Marsden grant enabled us as a research group to greatly develop our social science transdisciplinary and individual disciplinary skill sets and lay the foundation for more recent research contributions in the the land-coast-sea spaces of Aotearoa New Zealand. It also allowed us to commence work on laying the foundation for a new generation of regional development thinking and practice in this country.”

More information about the Marsden Fund grant can be found  here.  

Source:  Royal Society of New Zealand


Minister to talk sustainable agriculture on world stage

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor is on his way to Europe to represent New Zealand on the international sustainable agriculture and climate change stage.

He will speak at the international conference on agricultural greenhouse gases and food security in Berlin, co-sponsored by the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, which New Zealand led the establishment of in 2009.

As the first New Zealand Minister to visit Italy since the formation of its new government in April, he will meet with counterparts. In Rome he will also meet with the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

In Paris Mr O’Connor will host a reception to support New Zealand’s candidate for Director-General of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, Dr John Barker.

In London he will meet with UK officials and industry representatives to discuss the development of the UK’s agricultural policy.

Mr O’Connor will also meet with key European stakeholders on EU-New Zealand free trade agreement negotiations. He travels from 10-16 September.

The Government last week celebrated a decade of work by the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Research Programme, where $50 million for 150 projects has helped our primary sectors understand and adapt to climate change.

“This valuable work ensures our agriculture can remain profitable and sustainable into the future – knowledge coveted by countries around the world – and we value our relationships with like-minded agribusiness countries,” Mr O’Connor said.

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Owl Farm is going strong in the face of challenges

A focus day at a dairy demonstration farm this week will reflect on the standout progress the North Island farm has made during “an incredibly challenging season”, says Demonstration Manager Louise Cook.

A 16 per cent lift in standardised profit shows the strength of journey Owl Farm is on, despite milk production being lower than the year before, she says

The demonstration farm, located in Cambridge, is a joint venture between St Peter’s School and Lincoln University and aims to help build a profitable and sustainable dairy farming future.

Ms Cook says the focus day will include a discussion on how the farm’s use of plantain has improved operations over the past 12 months.

“One year on, we’ve learned a number of things about integrating plantain into our dairy farm.

“We’ll also talk about how we’ve been supported to optimise soil fertility levels and ensure we use the right product at the right time to get the best out of our fertiliser inputs.”

The focus day will conclude with a review of the changes in the Waikato River Plan change variation and what this means for Owl Farm.

The event is open to the public.


Wednesday, 23 May, 10.15am-12.30pm, followed by lunch

1716 Cambridge Road, State Highway 1, Cambridge (3km north of Cambridge on SH1)

Source: Lincoln University

Budget provides $15m extra for the Sustainable Farming Fund

Budget 2018 includes $15 million of new operating funding over the next four years for the Sustainable Farming Fund to support more inspiring ideas in applied research and extension projects that deliver economic, environmental and social benefits for New Zealand.

In a joint press statement to announce this, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Climate Change Minister James Shaw say the Government is investing in projects to build sustainability, productivity and resilience across the primary sector as the Government works alongside farmers and rural communities to provide leadership on some of New Zealand’s most pressing issues.

The Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) encourages unique collaborations among farmers and growers, scientists and researchers, iwi, local government and others who are making a real difference for our rural communities and the wider primary industries, Mr O’Connor says.

“There has been a massive oversubscription to the fund in recent years, meaning good projects aren’t getting a look-in because the previous Government did not provide enough investment for the fund,” he says.

“In the last SFF round, 86 eligible applications were received but only 28 of these could be accepted.”

Mr Shaw says these projects are led by those on the front line and help find ways to optimise the use of the country’s natural resources and protect the environment for future generations.

“We have set an ambitious target for New Zealand to become a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050,” Mr Shaw says.

“A range of forward-looking measures are required to achieve this. Cleaner, smarter farming is central to our plan for sustainable growth.”

Mr O’Connor says the SFF funding boost builds on work the Government has already prioritised.

Last year, he announced the pilot for SFF Tere, which translates to “be quick, swift or fast”.

“Smaller producers are often key innovators, and four SFF Tere projects are already progressing,” Mr O/Connor says.

“I’m looking forward to doing more to help our primary sector increase value and resilience, with a head start on ever-changing consumer tastes.”

The move announced today was included in the Confidence and Supply Agreement between Labour and the Green Party.

Mr Shaw says the Government is committed to partnering with the agricultural sector to achieve shared goals for sustainability, modernisation and profitability.

“This boost to the Sustainable Farming Fund injects fresh energy into projects that explore how to farm less intensively and more in tune with the environment, while retaining profitability.”

Find out more about the Sustainable Farming Fund at


Government applauded for signalling the need for change in NZ agriculture

Lees_Nic (1)

Dr Nic Lees … a question of taking the pain now or later.

A senior lecturer in agribusiness management at Lincoln University, Dr Nic Lees, says Environment Minister David Parker is right to signal New Zealand agriculture cannot continue with business as usual.

Intensive dairying is profitable only because it is not bearing the full costs of its production systems, Dr Lees said in a news post on the university website (HERE).

“It is not paying the cost to the environment of its production. We are all picking up the tab and especially our children for the impact on our waterways and climate,” he said.

“Currently intensive dairy farming is addicted to high production per cow. This means adding in concentrated feed such as palm kernel and high levels of nitrogen fertiliser. This increases costs, which means these systems are only profitable with high production and high commodity prices.”

Dr Lees said this shows New Zealand’s future is not in maintaining our position as the lowest cost producer of meat and dairy products.

“The longer that the beef and dairy industries hold on to a commodity model based on increasing output and lowering costs the greater will be the future farmer pain.

“I think we need to have conversations around ‘peak cow’ and the future of our animal production industries.”

He said the Labour Government is clearly signalling New Zealand’s future is not in commodities.

“Facing up to ‘peak cows’ will benefit New Zealand and farmers in the long term. It is either some pain now or a lot of pain later.

“If not alternative proteins will take out our commodity agricultural products in the same way nylon took out wool as a fibre.”

Minister Parker has said there is potential to change towards cropping, horticulture, which are high-value land uses, Dr Lees noted.

“He is right to say there are too many cows, however the potential for cropping and horticulture to replace dairying is simply not going to happen.

“There is no way horticulture and cropping can replace any significant portion of dairy farming land even if it was suitable for horticulture and cropping, which it mostly isn’t.”

Dr Lees said cropping and horticulture land takes up about 2.5 per cent of New Zealand’s total land (422,400 ha). About 1.7 per cent of that is in grain crops and less than 1 per cent for growing fruit and berries. In comparison dairy takes up about 20 per cent (2.6 million ha).

However, there is potential for the horticulture sector to increase the value of our exports. The horticulture industry already produces $5.6 billion in exports from just 200,000 ha. This is in comparison to the dairy industry producing $13 billion from 2.4 million ha.

Dairying can also learn from the sheep industry.

NZ reached peak sheep at 60 million in 1984, Dr Lees pointed out.

Now we have only 30 million but produce the same volume of lamb at significant higher value.

Fewer animals mean less greenhouse gasses and reduce nitrate leaching.

There is the potential to see this happen in the dairy industry also.

Source: Lincoln University