Provoking confidence at Federated Farmers

Brian Richards, Federated Farmers Conference 2018
Brian Richards set out his 19 provocations for delegates in a booklet distributed at the Federated Farmers Conference 2018.

A collective vision beyond the farm gate and a complete review of the value chain “from farm to fork” are what New Zealand’s primary sector needs, according to marketing guru Brian Richards. He set 19 provocations for the primary sector to consider in its move to farming with confidence for the future.

The marketing strategist, and deer farmer, behind brands such as Cervena, Ovation, First Light Foods, Icebreaker, Richmond Meats and Zespri, was a keynote speaker at the Federated Farmers conference at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington this week. He set 19 ‘provocations’ in an essay for delegates to consider under the conference theme ‘Farming with Confidence’. These were to be voted on by delegates for discussion in a later conference session.

Some of his points ring true with Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ)’s Red Meat Story, that is currently moving towards implementation, along with its recently released Environment Strategy and also the Red Meat Profit Partnership’s NZ Farm Assurance Programme.

He questioned whether New Zealand really knows how to sell less for more.

“It’s all about feeding just two percent of 1.5 billion people wherever we find them,” said Richards, adding that telling New Zealand’s food story to the citizens of the world, many of them in the cities, is critical. With food purchasing dividing into two categories, mid-week convenience and gourmet weekends, it’s about taste and experience and connecting with nature, from his point of view.

Using sufficient consumer insights to drive food strategy is critical in his view as is the sector having a clear view on genetic modification. In addition, sustainable farming practices verified to market standards will be required.¬†Health attributes of food are another category where he sees New Zealand’s food sector is missing a trick. Closing the rural-urban divide here in New Zealand will be important too.

“And, why the hell do we want to compete with each other?” he asked, pointing to appellation strategies such as Champagne, which has around 300 growers and 32 brands that he said don’t compete with each other, “They celebrate the whole generic story of champagne and have their own fellowship and appellation systems.”

“Moving from beasts to boxes,” he said it is all about innovation, but in his view the sector “innovates around the edges.” The red meat industry, in particular, needs to work harder on maximising value from downstream co-products such as blood and serum, he believes. He also said there was virtually no innovation in the meat industry, which in his opinion has a “process obsession, rather than a product obsession.”

Investment in research and development across the sector as a whole needs to be lifted, he argued. There is also a lack of funding to lift sector capability and a lot of work is needed to improve the uplift of data on the farm.

Richards’ vision includes a review of the value chain from fork to farm, matched with a shared agribusiness brand or umbrella, a universal farm certification system, shared e-commerce platforms and New Zealand-owned distribution hubs around the world.

Above all, primary sector leaders need to have a “collective vision beyond the farm gate.”

Richards believes if New Zealand’s primary sector mindset can be shifted towards being a food nation in the next 10 years, it would be another 10 years before the value ccould be realised.

Damien O'Connor, Federated Farmers Conference 2018
Damien O’Connor.

Confidence means a clear vision and direction of travel

In his address to the conference, Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor noted confidence is about having a clear vision and a direction of travel and farmers are very adaptable given clear signals.

In meeting the Government’s vision, he said, this means shaping the economy where: “We work smarter not harder, embrace new technology as a tool to face off challenges and make better use of our natural resources,” he said.

“We want to move past volume to value, and further, to values producing the finest food and fibre for the world’s most discerning customers,” he said.

He noted the new Primary Sector Council (PSC), chaired by former Kiwifruit chief executive Lain Jager and filled with “visionary and creative” primary sector leaders, met for the first time last month and well on its way to its first task. “That is, the development of a sector-wide vision that sets a clear, aspirational direction for primary sectors,” he said.

O’Connor also talked about difference between the subjective term ‘creativity’, which he said, “unleashes the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas”, and the objective ‘innovation’, which is more measurable and “is more about introducing change to a relatively stable system.” The key difference is the focus, the Minister said.

Talking about disruptive technology like alternative protein, he said, “New Zealand is in competition with these guys to remain top of mind for an increasingly environmentally and socially conscious consumer.”

New Zealand needs to leverage off its environmental advantages such as free-range, pasture-fed and other attributes, “To clearly show our consumers these products are different and haven’t been replicated in a lab.”

Answering a question from the floor about moves in France to ban the term ‘meat’ and ‘milk’ in association with alternative proteins, the Minister said: “We have to live with the fact they are out there.” He sees it as an opportunity for New Zealand to brand its foods appropriately with this country’s unique attributes and back it up with integrity.

“What value consumers see in our products is for them to judge. We need to believe in ourselves and develop a product with integrity.

“I say, let’s be the Swiss watch of protein manufacturing in the world,” he said.

Delegates also heard from B+LNZ general manager market development Nick Beeby and Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage amongst others later in the conference.

Brian Richards’ 19 primary sector provocations are:

  1. There are no route maps for change
  2. Mypoic siloed leadership caught in time warps
  3. We have no over-arching New Zealand agribusiness story or umbrella brand
  4. The primary sector does not know how to sell less for more
  5. The primary sector currently has no clear strategy on genetic modification
  6. As yet we have not recognised the positioning of food as a health product
  7. As yet we are still not using sufficient consumer insights to drive food strategies
  8. Why is it we have no New Zealand-owned distribution hubs across the world in key markets?
  9. Collaboration seems a no-brainer, yet we don’t get it
  10. Growing products in market
  11. The growing divide between urban and rural
  12. At present there is no universal farm certification system
  13. Farming practices which will save the planet
  14. Can we make our farmers better businessmen?
  15. Collaboration versus clobberation
  16. Why is New Zealand’s R&D spend so low compared to other countries?
  17. Attracting and building strong capability in the primary sector
  18. Data versus folklore and intuition
  19. It seems we innovate around the edges avoiding the big issues



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