Fresh perspective offered by new Primary Sector Council

Damien O'Connor
Damien O'Connor.

The new Primary Sector Council set up by the Minister last week will offer a fresh perspective for the red meat sector to help it capture more value from its work.

The new group, comprised of visionary agribusiness leaders, will provide independent strategic advice to the Government on issues confronting the primary industries – with an immediate focus on developing a sector-wide vision, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Communities Damien O’Connor explained when he announced its formation late last week.

“This group of 15 innovative leaders from across the sector will provide fresh thinking at a time when New Zealand’s primary sector is facing unprecedented levels of change,” says O’Connor.

“Does that vision coalesce around ideas of sustainability, grower to plate storytelling, pasture-fed protein, smarter use of water and appealing to consumers who are prepared to pay more for products that align with their personal values?” he asked.

“I do not have the answers myself, which is why I am excited about the work the Council will do,” says O’Connor.

The council will be chaired by Lain Jager, former chief executive of Zespri Group and 2017 Ravensdown Agricultural Communicator of the Year.

“Lain brings solid experience in leadership, value-adding innovation and stakeholder engagement, which are all critical elements of the work I expect the Council to deliver,” says the Minister.

Other members, some of which are drawn from the Te Hono Bootcamp alumni, include:  Greenlea Premier Meats’ chief executive and AMARDT chairman Tony Egan, Nadine Tunley (Watson & Son/Energie Produce), Puawai Wereta (Tuaropaki Trust), Julia Jones (KPMG), John Brakenridge (NZ Merino), Stephanie Howard (Sustainability Council NZ), Shama Lee (Sunfed Meats), Mark Paine (DairyNZ), Julian Raine (HortNZ), Neil Richardson (Foundation for Science, Research and Technology and Seales Winslow Ltd), Miriana Stephens (Wakatu Incorporation), John Rodwell (farmer and Landcare Research), Steve Saunders (Plus Group) and Steve Smith (Lincoln University). Also invited to council meetings are the Young Horticulturist and Young Farmer of the Year. These are currently: Shanna Hickling, 2017 Young Horticulturist of the Year and R&D Manager at Linnaeus Laboratory in Gisborne; and Otago sheep and beef farmer Nigel Woodhead, the 2017 FMG Young Farmer of the Year.

They will meet for the first time in late May/early June. After an initial couple of meetings aimed at developing a sector-wide vision, it is expected the frequency of meetings will drop to quarterly, when the Council will be working with each sector to develop individual sector-wide plans.

“These plans will include elements such as sustainable development, future value creation, technological opportunities and how a focused and thriving primary sector can reinvigorate rural communities,” says O’Connor.

“We’ve heard a lot recently about alternative proteins and the potential impact on our meat and dairy sectors. We also know some change will be required on environmental sustainability and a shift away from a commodity and volume focus, This move will give the primary sector its social licence to reap the opportunities of changing consumer trends.

“Kiwi growers and farmers have an immense collective knowledge and energy: they know sitting still is not an option and are constantly looking at ways to improve their operations. The Primary Sector Council will help harness that expertise,” he says.

Tony Egan
Tony Egan, Greenlea Premier Meats.

Having challenged the Minister to set up a pan-sector vehicle for primary sector collaboration at December’s MPI Food & Fibre Innovation conference, Tony Egan says he was surprised to be invited to join the PSC, but is pleased to be the red meat sector’s voice within it.

“The Council has an interesting composition of innovators and disrupters to act as a sounding board for the Minister,” he says. “They bring varying skill sets and inter-generational differences that will produce creative new thinking for the primary sector and tap into consumers’ mood for change,” says Egan, adding the Minister is keen to broaden his own thinking on the matter.

The red meat sector is already working towards its own future plans, which will be enhanced by the new thinking, he believes.

“It will be a worthwhile exercise from our perspective. This group will bring its own perspectives to issues that are common to us all.”

Sam McIvor
Sam McIvor: keen to work constructively with the PSC.

Welcoming the PSC’s formation, Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd (B+LNZ) chief executive Sam McIvor says his organisation is keen to work constructively with the PSC on the broad range of challenges and opportunities.

“We welcome the focus on lifting gains from the sector, which aligns with what B+LNZ and our partners are seeking to achieve with the Red Meat Story.

“Capturing greater market value for farmers and the positive flow-on effect for rural communities is an absolute priority for us.

“There’s a good mix of skills from the red meat sector as well as the wider primary sector and we’re certainly looking forward to seeing their outputs.”

Criticism of the new Council has come from opposition spokesman on agriculture Nathan Guy who says the Coalition Government will be “held to ransom” by the demands of the Green Party. He is also critical of the lack of a “heavy hitter” from the dairy industry.

“Give the thing a chance,” responds Egan.

“Its purpose is to build consensus with all working together to position New Zealand on the world stage. This isn’t the only initiative for the primary sector, it’s offering a new perspective.”


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