Comment: Science and bees essential for prosperity

Allan BarberAmong the vast array of press releases Allan Barber receives from Federated Farmers, two in particular struck him as very relevant to our future, possibly more than the interminable pre-Election debates between politicians.

After all this second category bidding for our attention and our votes is either trying hard to avoid rocking the boat by stating any new vision (the government) or making promises they don’t have to worry about keeping (most of the rest).

The first press release concerned the importance of bees and the second was a plea by Feds’ president William Rolleston for an increase in science investment of $600 million over three years. These topics may be seen as at opposite ends of the spectrum from the perspective of impact and importance.

But just looking at bees for a moment, the humble bee is responsible for pollinating the plants and crops which allow the growth of all agricultural production. Two thirds of our food sources would disappear without pollination, leaving a diet of fish, starch, grains and seaweed. We probably all know in vague terms what would happen without bees without actually envisaging the reality.

Federated Farmers Bee Chair John Hartnell lists several ways we can contribute to the continued life and health of bees which are worth stating because they are common sense – avoid spraying and irrigating during the day when bees are flying, locate hives away from irrigation and in a sunny spot, and plant bee friendly plants in urban areas.

The decline in the bee population in recent years suggests these practices, especially agricultural sprays and irrigation, are not being observed as rigorously as they need to be if bees’ survival is to be assured.

Rolleston’s speech was the focus of the launch of Federated Farmers’ Election Manifesto at Lincoln University on Wednesday. He cites the importance of science in underpinning agricultural production which contributed nearly three quarters of New Zealand’s merchandise exports last year.

While there are many initiatives in agricultural research, $100 million of it estimated to be invested by farmers through the PGP programme and through individual industry sector organisations, New Zealand only invests 1.2 percent of GDP in R&D, significantly less than other first world countries..

According to the speech, “The formation of the Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs) have also increased collaboration between institutions and in some areas are contributing to vital strategic capability for the primary sector.

That is why the potential loss of funding for the three CoREs targeting biosecurity, food innovation and reproduction, would be a strategic blow to New Zealand……Institutions like the Bioprotection Centre, Gravida and the Riddett Institute are fundamental to the success and advancement of our primary industries as well as our economy.”

Loss of research funding by these institutions is the reason for the additional investment Feds are calling for.

Rolleston concluded by drawing attention to the disproportionately small number of students graduating with a degree, diploma or certificate in the primary industries disciplines compared with such disciplines as sports and recreation, journalism and communication. But by 2025 it is estimated two thirds of primary industry roles will require a tertiary qualification.

Federated Farmers deserve credit for highlighting these topics for public awareness. I wish them success in getting politicians and the public to recognise their importance to our future prosperity.

Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. This item has appeared in FW Plus this week. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.

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