New Zealand agriculture sector must take ‘bold action’ to help steer ‘food transition’ – Rabobank CEO

Rabobnk Managing Director Todd Charteris. Photo / Provided

Bold action is needed from New Zealand’s agricultural industry if it is to benefit from the global food transition, Rabobank NZ chief executive Todd Charteris has told the sector.

Speaking at the New Zealand Primary Industries Summit in Auckland earlier today, Charteris said New Zealand’s agricultural sector – and others around the world – were currently grappling with how to meet the dual challenge of increasing food production and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

With the world’s population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, the global agricultural sector had “a big job to do” to ensure everyone had access to sufficient, safe and affordable food, Charteris said.

“But at the same time, the sector must also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production that risk warming our entire planet.”

Charteris said that as efficient food producers, New Zealand farmers and producers have a moral obligation to produce food beyond farmers in many other parts of the world.

“If New Zealand withdraws from food production, what will fill that void could be something very damaging to the environment.

“So, as an industry, we need to move forward on both fronts: increasing food production to feed the world and reducing our impact on the environment.”

New Zealand “makes a living” from food and agriculture and the country’s food producers are well placed to meet this challenge, according to Charteris.

“The sector receives strong signals from government, consumers and the community to reduce its emissions profile and history shows that New Zealand agriculture is innovative and adaptive when faced with a problem and has the time and resources to resolve it,” he said. .

“And with these factors in its favour, the sector is not only well positioned to produce large volumes of premium food for global consumers, but also to set the standard for the rest of the world in sustainable food production. “

While this is the case, a global leadership position would only be achieved if the sector took bold steps that helped guide the industry through the food transition, Charteris said.

“Climate change is complex and, with food and agribusiness actors at different stages of the acceptance and response journey, bold actions will be needed to ensure the sector stays on track to meet its commitments under the climate change framework. of the Paris Agreements.

“We need to stay ahead of the game and control the direction of travel, because if we don’t, retailers, consumers, competitors and regulators will impose their solutions on us.”

Four key actions

While it would be difficult to recognize the reduction in emissions, Charteris
identified four key actions to help guide the New Zealand food and agribusiness industry on the
way forward:

• Implementation of an innovation “swarm” effect
• Put food waste “in contact”
• Achieve significant gains through precision agriculture; and
• Obtain good emissions compensation.

“New ideas, technologies and alternative systems will be essential for the sector to make the
necessary changes that allow it to respond to the market, and the first of these actions is to define
create a ‘swarm’ effect of innovation,” he said.

Charteris said the sector had to “accept the uncertainty” to achieve this.

“You can’t fully plan for innovation and develop a systematic approach that creates an ‘innovation swarm’ by ensuring that innovations work, are widely dispersed and easily accessible.

“It would also involve developing the agricultural workforce and its contractors and ensuring adoption of the best innovation practices while removing barriers.”

The second action, Charteris said, was to kick the food waste “by touch”.

“Food waste is a major source of emissions, both at the production stage, but also at the
consumption phase – as illustrated by the recent Rabobank-KiwiHarvest food report
litter research that found Kiwi households now throw away a whopping 13.4 per
cent of their weekly food expenditure,” he said.

“The strategy aims to encourage a circular economy where products have a return cycle
which keeps reusable materials in circulation.

Charteris’ next key action was to achieve significant gains through precision agriculture, which added “a systematic element to the collection of agricultural data to support decision-making.”

“It can be used on-farm or off-farm and the increased use of precision farming techniques will not only help optimize inputs into a production system, but also improve the productivity of animal husbandry and horticulture,” he said.

The fourth and final initiative, Charteris said, was to properly offset emissions.

“Farmers and producers want to ensure an integrated approach to planting trees on
farms as they fear whole-farm conversions will become more likely as carbon prices
increase under the emissions trading system,” he said at the summit.

“A watershed coordination package could provide more balance, to strategically plant trees in the most beneficial areas.”

Listen to Jamie Mackay’s interview with Todd Charteris on The Country below:

Government support is vital

Charteris believed that an alignment of private and public incentives was essential to underpin these actions and enable the sector to achieve steady incremental gains.

“Governments need to establish a consistent framework that allows farmers to embrace innovation and financially benefit from the emission reductions they bring to society,” he said.

“In due course, preferential trade agreements may need to include carbon reduction in agriculture to give preferential treatment to ‘low carbon farmers’ over ‘cheap’ suppliers.”

Without this alignment of incentives, meeting climate change goals would be difficult, he said.

On this point he said that “it is positive to see this type of arrangement included in the NZ/EU Free Trade Agreement which was announced last week”.

Rabobank’s involvement

Charteris said industry stakeholders needed to do the right thing and Rabobank was committed to playing a role in helping New Zealand’s agricultural sector transition to higher production and a low future. carbon emission.

Rabobank joined the UN’s net zero global alliance, benchmarking non-financial aspects of corporate clients to ensure it was dealing with responsible farmers and producers, he said.

Rabobank was also in the process of Toitū accreditation “to allow us to report on our own emissions,” Charteris said.

A new white paper which examines the challenge of climate change for New Zealand’s agribusiness is also being finalized, he said.

“This document will be released in the coming weeks and our intention is to engage with farmers, industry players and politicians over the coming months to discuss the key findings of the document and how the bank can working with others to guide the food transition ahead.”

Lana T. Arthur